Fur flies in UN briefing on Zimbabwe

United Nations envoy Anna Tibaijuka on Wednesday briefed the UN Security Council on her harsh report on Zimbabwe’s slum demolition drive as Britain urged the world to extend urgently needed humanitarian aid to its former colony.

The closed-door briefing went ahead after a procedural ballot requested by Russia, in which the 15-member council voted nine in favour and five against, with one abstention, to approve the British request for the briefing. No veto is allowed on procedural matters.

China and Russia joined three African countries — Algeria, Benin and Tanzania — in voting against. Brazil abstained.

Explaining why his country opposed any discussion of the Zimbabwean demolition drive, China’s UN delegate Zhang Yishan said: ”The Security Council only deals with situations that threaten world peace and security.”

Zimbabwe’s UN envoy Boniface Chidyausiku, who took part in the closed meeting, made the same point, saying Harare opposed council consideration of the issue ”on principle”.

”We did not feel that our situation warranted the attention it was receiving,” he added.

After a two-week fact-finding visit by Tibaijuka, who heads UN Habitat, the UN on Friday released a scathing report on Harare’s campaign of demolitions, stating that it has left 700 000 Zimbabweans homeless and destitute, and affected a further 2,4-million.

Britain’s UN envoy Emyr Jones Parry said after the briefing that Zimbabwe should heed the recommendations in the Tibaijuka report as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s call for an end to the demolition drive.

He also called on the international community to ”rally around and provide the humanitarian relief which is going to be urgently needed”.

”In the longer term, we look to the government of Zimbabwe to take heed of the report itself, its recommendations and indeed of the views expressed today [by council members],” he added.

Parry told reporters that he was pleased Zimbabwe’s UN envoy took part in the discussions and expressed hope his colleague would report back to Harare the views expressed by the council.

But Chidyausiku defended what he presented as his government’s slum-clearance programme, saying countries opposed to Harare’s land-reform programme are behind the current campaign against Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe embarked on its land-redistribution programme in February 2000, seizing prime farmland owned by about 4 500 white farmers and handing it over to the landless black majority.

The government’s land reforms have been partly blamed for compromising food production in what was once the Southern African region’s breadbasket.

On Tibaijuka’s report, Zimbabwe’s envoy said: ”We agreed with some of things she saw. What we have found fault with that report is the loose language which has been open to various interpretations by various interest groups.”

He added: ”These are people who are not interested in assisting Zimbabwe. They have a political agenda and pounced on that report and interpreted [it] to suit their own agenda.”

Tibaijuka, meanwhile, said the briefing showed that there is ”a lot of concern” about the Zimbabwe demolition drive, and appealed for international aid.

Asked about allegations by Zimbabwe that she had been pressured into producing a damning report, she said: ”My report is very clear. It’s an objective report. There’s nothing more that I can say.”

”A well-briefed woman of [UN] Habitat was sent to investigate and produce a predetermined report, which we knew would be negative,” Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper quoted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as saying while on a trip to China.

”Firstly, there’s been no pressure; secondly, events speak for themselves, the facts actually substantiate her report and she has produced a report on her own authority for the secretary general and no British fingerprint near it,” Parry retorted. ”The conspiracy theory does not apply.”

Mugabe is on a six-day visit to China and has been warmly greeted as ”an old friend” by President Hu Jintao, head of one of the few countries to embrace the 81-year-old leader who is banned from travelling in the European Union and United States.

Annan has meanwhile made it clear that he will not visit Zimbabwe unless Harare stops the evictions of slum dwellers and allows humanitarian aid to reach those in need. — Sapa-AFP

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Gerard Aziakou
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