/ 1 July 2008

UN chief vows efforts on Zim crisis

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pledged on Tuesday to work to mediate the political crisis in Zimbabwe, saying the internationally condemned election had implications for all of Africa.

Ban, in Tokyo on an Asian tour, repeated his view that the violence-marred election that gave veteran leader Robert Mugabe another term lacked legitimacy.

Zimbabweans should be able to ”enjoy genuine freedom” so they can ”choose their leaders out of their own will without being intimidated”, Ban told a news conference.

”You have my full commitment that I will spare no efforts to work out a solution,” Ban told a news conference.

Ban cited the example of Kenya, where former UN chief Kofi Annan brokered a power-sharing deal that ended weeks of bloodshed after a disputed election in December.

”This can give us some good lessons,” Ban said of the Kenya crisis.

”The situation in Zimbabwe has great implications, not only to the people and government in Zimbabwe,” Ban said, calling it ”important to maintain the credibility of democratic rule in Africa as a whole”.

Mugabe (84) was sworn in for a sixth term after being declared the winner of Friday’s election run-off. Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, who topped Mugabe in the first round, withdrew citing deadly violence and intimidation.

Ban said the deputy UN chief, Asha-Rose Migiro, and his Zimbabwe envoy, Haile Menkerios, were at the African summit that opened Monday in Egypt and were ready to help mediate on Zimbabwe.

Italy on Monday said it is recalling its ambassador to Harare as a ”political signal” of its disapproval of the regime of President Robert Mugabe.

”Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has ordered the ambassador to Harare to return to Rome for consultations,” the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, several Zimbabwe farmers who fought the seizure of their land have been attacked by suspected Mugabe supporters, a farmers’ union said Monday, after the country’s criticised one-man election.

Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said 16 people had been arrested over the attacks and 20 others were being sought. He blamed the violence on ”common criminality”.

The leader of a group of white farmers and two members of his family were among those targeted, said Deon Theron, vice-president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU).

According to Theron, William Michael Campbell, his wife and son-in-law were ”severely beaten” on Sunday, the same day Mugabe was sworn in for a sixth term as president.

Campbell’s wife suffered two broken arms, while his son-in-law risked losing an eye, said Theron.

Campbell was among about 80 farmers who earlier this year won the right from a regional tribunal to remain on their farms until a new hearing on July 16, despite government orders to have them seized.

Theron said a group of about 20 armed men in a bus drove to the farm in Chegutu, west of Harare, on Sunday afternoon where they beat up the family after asking them to withdraw the suit.

After the attack the group then ”abducted” the wounded family, stole their vehicle and later dumped them in a bush away from the farm, according to Theron.

They were later rescued by another family member and were hospitalised in Harare.

The same group of assailants allegedly attacked a manager at a nearby farm owned by another white farmer, Cyril Meredith, whose property also falls under the Southern African Development Community tribunal order.

On Monday, the group ransacked another white-owned farm subject to a similar order, said Theron.

In the past two weeks, a number of farms have seen similar experiences, he said.

”It appears they are targeting every farmer who had the audacity to seek relief outside the country,” Theron said.

Mugabe embarked on a land-reform programme at the turn of the decade that saw about 4 000 white-owned farms expropriated by the state.

Critics put much of the blame for the country’s economic crisis on the land programme, saying it saw some of the country’s most productive farms handed to people with no previous farming experience, or to ruling party cronies.

Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe now faces the world’s highest inflation rate and major food shortages. — AFP