UN chief urges release of jailed Zim activists

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to free about 30 jailed activists to help “heal the nation”.

“While I support the launch of a unity government, it will be appropriate for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to heal the nation and release the detained activists,” Ban told reporters during a visit to South Africa.

About 30 human rights activists and supporters of new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai remain behind bars despite the formation of a unity government earlier this month, meant to end nearly a year of political turmoil.

Among them is Roy Bennett, a top aide to Tsvangirai, who was arrested shortly before erstwhile opposition leader Tsvangirai was inaugurated.

The detentions have sparked an international outcry and highlighted concerns among Western donors that the 85-year-old leader is not ready to share power despite his new partner in government.

Ban urged Mugabe to heed the concerns of the international community, whose support is desperately needed to rebuild Zimbabwe’s shattered economy.

“Mugabe should promote national reconciliation. The international community will only support this government if there are efforts from Mugabe to make it work,” he told a press conference.

“Mugabe should implement the [unity] deal to his sincerest and meet the expectations of the international community and the people of Zimbabwe,” he added.

Political drama
The political drama unfolded amid a worsening humanitarian crisis that has left more than half the population without food, while a cholera epidemic has swept the nation killing more than 3 800 people.

A UN team arrived in Zimbabwe five days ago on a mission to find ways of boosting humanitarian aid. They were expected to arrive in Johannesburg late on Wednesday to brief Ban, before he leaves the following morning for Tanzania.

After his talks with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, Ban was also set to meet former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, as well as African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, who is widely tipped to become South Africa’s next leader after general elections in April.

Ban was set to leave South Africa early on Thursday to carry on with his tour through Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Cong, Rwanda and Egypt.

In Tanzania, the secretary general is to meet with President Jakaya Kikwete and to address the diplomatic and academic community in Dar es Salaam. He is also to inaugurate an office in Zanzibar, provided by the regional government, to house all UN agencies.

Ban also plans to fly over the receding ice cap of Mount Kilimanjaro on his way to Arusha to visit the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

He is then set to visit the DRC, which launched a surprise joint offensive with Rwanda last month to neutralise a major rebel group that had been waging bloody battles in the eastern part of the country.

In the DRC, Ban is to confer with President Joseph Kabila, parliamentarians and members of civil society. He will then head to the eastern city of Bukavu, capital of Sud-Kivu province, to inspect Panzi Hospital, where victims of sexual violence are cared for.

In Goma, Ban is scheduled to meet with members of the UN peacekeeping mission as well as with local authorities and visit a camp for people displaced by conflict. — AFP

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