Zimbabwe said it blocked Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and GraÃ§a Machel from visiting on a humanitarian mission because they had not properly consulted with officials before the trip, a state-run newspaper reported on Sunday.
The former UN secretary general, the ex-US president and Machel, a rights advocate, said on Saturday they were denied visas for a mission to assess the needs of Zimbabweans, many of whom are suffering from hunger and disease.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said late on Saturday that Zimbabwe had only asked for a postponement on the visit.
”The government of Zimbabwe has not barred Mr Annan and his team from coming to Zimbabwe. It is most unfortunate that the former secretary general has, for reason best known to himself, misrepresented the position of the government of Zimbabwe,” Mumbengegwi said.
Mumbengegwi said Zimbabwe would engage with ”all those of goodwill” over aid, and that Annan should have sought engagement ”instead of calling a press conference in South Africa to misrepresent the position of the government of Zimbabwe.”
The Elders spent the weekend in Johannesburg, meeting with representatives of aid agencies, Zimbabwean civil society organisations and political parties.
The Elders were formed by former South African president Mandela to foster peace and tackle world conflicts.
Annan said on Saturday that Zimbabwe gave no official reason for refusing them visas for the mission, which they insisted was entirely separate from regional attempts to get President Robert Mugabe and his rivals to implement a power-sharing agreement.
The Sunday Mail, a mouthpiece for the Zimbabwean government, quoted Mumbengegwi as saying Annan had failed to consult with the government beforehand on the ”timing and programme” of the visit.
”Mr Annan is a man of great experience. He knows the importance of prior consultations and preparation for a high-level visit,” the paper quoted Mumbengegwi as saying. ”We expect someone of his level to observe the correct procedure and practice.”
”We take strong exception to any suggestions that there are those out there who care more about the welfare of our people than we do,” he was quoted as saying.
Mumbengegwi also said the group would have had difficulty conducting a meaningful assessment, after the government had already completed its own ”humanitarian audit” in conjunction UN agencies based in the country, the paper reported.
No details of that programme have been made available, and Mumbengegwi did not name any of the UN agencies in the newspaper report.
On Thursday, Zimbabwe’s state Herald newspaper said the group had been asked to ”come at a later date” to accommodate the crop-planting season. The paper quoted unidentified people as saying the three were seen as antagonistic toward the government.
Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis is deepening, while political crisis over a stalled power-sharing government occupies its politicians. A cholera outbreak has killed nearly 300 people in Zimbabwe, the United Nations said.
Carter told a news conference in Johannesburg on Saturday that the three were ”very disappointed” that Zimbabwe’s government ”would not cooperate”.
He said it was the first time the 2002 Nobel Peace laureate has been denied permission to carry out a mission in any country.
The Elders — including 12 former world leaders and prominent rights activists — have mediated in a number of other international crises, such as Sudan and Kenya. – Sapa-AP
Meanwhile, SA President Kgalema Motlanthe appealed to Zimbabwe’s political parties to begin constitutional processes that will create a unity
government, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported on Sunday.
He told a press briefing after holding talks with his Botswana counterpart Ian Khama: ”We agreed that with regards to Zimbabwe the next step really is to ensure that we unblock the impasse for them to take amendment 19 through the senate and the assembly, so that Mr [Morgan] Tsvangirai could be sworn in as prime minister and [Arthur] Mutambara as the vice-prime minister and [Robert] Mugabe as the president, so that once the three of them have been sworn in they can then form an inclusive government.”