/ 2 February 2009

Mugabe agrees to visit by UN humanitarian team

Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe has agreed to allow a top-level United Nations team to visit Zimbabwe to find ways of curbing a cholera epidemic and a hunger crisis, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Monday.

Ban told reporters that he met on Sunday with Mugabe on the sidelines of the African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital.

The meeting came three days after the country’s main opposition agreed to form a unity government with the 84-year-old Zanu-PF leader, a decision that Ban warned would not be enough to resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis.

”The humanitarian situation, which has reached an almost unbearable point for the people in Zimbabwe, has been a source of deep, deep concern for the international community, for the United Nations,” Ban told a press conference.

”He assured me that he and his country would be fully open to humanitarian work and activities,” Ban said.

Mugabe agreed to accept a high-level UN team led by assistant secretary general on humanitarian affairs Catherine Bragg, who would assess the crisis and find ways to deliver aid, Ban said.

A cholera epidemic, which started in August, has infected 62 909 people and killed 3 229 others, latest data from the World Health Organisation showed on Monday.

Seven million people — more than half the population — need emergency food aid, according to UN figures.

Ban also repeated his concerns about the planned unity government, and said he told Mugabe that his government still needs to release political prisoners and end human rights abuses.

”I still believe that this is an imperfect decision,” Ban said of the unity deal.

”I have urged president Mugabe to build up on this new development and try to make progress as soon as possible so that they can ensure full democracy and freedom,” he said.

”I urge them to fully protect the human rights of the Zimbabwean people and release all prisoners who have been arrested over the last few months.”

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed on Friday to join Mugabe in a unity government, serving as prime minister, following disputed elections last March. — Sapa-AFP