Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe will accept food aid without strings attached: Minister

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Harare/Johannesburg_(dpa) _ Zimbabwe, which is facing a massive food deficit this year, will accept food aid from donors as long as there are no political strings attached, a government minister has said, according to reports Tuesday.

Zimbabwe is expected to harvest only a third of its annual requirement of staple maize crop due to drought.

President Robert Mugabe's cash-strapped government has already said it is importing maize from Malawi, Zambia and South Africa to cover the shortfall.

However, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu stressed that donations would only be accepted without strings attached.

The government would not accept food offers from anyone for political purposes, Ndlovu said in comments carried by the official Herald newspaper.

"We always appreciate help from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on condition that such help is not attached to innuendoes of failure," the minister said.

"We had a severe drought this year despite the fact that farmers were doing a good job in the field," he added.

Mugabe's government is sensitive to criticism of a controversial land reform programme launched seven years ago.

Critics say the programme, under which more than 4,000 productive farms owned by whites were seized for redistribution to blacks, has destroyed agricultural production, which had once been the country's economic mainstay.

Now, the economy's constitution is critical, marked by official inflation of more than 1,700 percent and chronic shortages of food, power, and foreign currency.

UN food agency experts are due to visit the country this week in order to carry out crop and food security assessments by communicating with the government, reports said.

Ndlovu's comments welcoming help from outside appear one week after he told ruling party supporters in the second city of Bulawayo that the government had cancelled the registration certificates of all aid groups working in the country.

He said the move was taken to sift out those seeking to force regime change in Zimbabwe.

The National Association of NGOs, representing 1,000 aid groups in Harare, advised its members to ignore the threat, saying the work of NGOs remained crucial to crisis-hit Zimbabwe.

There was no constitutional, legal or moral basis for wholesale deregistration of NGOs, it was said in a statement last week. dpa rt brs ds

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