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Zimbabwe blocks UN aid in row



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By Staff Reporter

ZIMBABWE has prevented the United Nations from launching an emergency appeal for millions of dollars to help hundreds of thousands of people evicted in a massive slum clearance, a senior UN official said on Friday.

Undersecretary-General Jan Egeland said President Robert Mugabe's government has objected to a text for the appeal because of disagreements over the number of people affected and how to help them. The participation of some voluntary organisations that work with the United Nations was also disputed.

"It is with regret that I confirm today that I cannot launch an agreed appeal for these people evicted in Zimbabwe in the months of May, June and July predominantly," he told reporters. "We have not reached agreement with the government on a text."

The United Nations sought to launch the emergency appeal immediately after a UN report was issued July 22 saying the government's Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Trash, had "unleashed chaos and untold human suffering." Some 700 000 Zimbabweans lost their homes or jobs, and a further 2.4 million people were affected by the countrywide campaign that began with little warning on May 19.

Egeland said he received a report on Friday that "a sizable group of people" were being evicted right now from Eckworth Farm. The United Nations has protested and was told by a government official that the evictions were not part of the slum clearance but the result of the illegal occupation of the farm, he said.

Mugabe's government has defended the drive to clean up overcrowded, crime-ridden slums, which it also calls Operation Restore Order, and has promised to help the displaced rebuild. It claims fewer people were affected and denounced the UN report as "hostile," "biased and wrong."

Egeland wouldn't comment on whether the government's objections were a result of politics, though he called the overall situation "highly charged politically."

"It has been a process with many ministers having wanted to be involved, and it's been getting out of hand," he said, adding that a flash appeal should be carried out "in hours and not in several weeks."

"Hundreds of thousands of people were in need because they were evicted," Egeland said. "Why we cannot agree that these are people - whatever we call them - who are in need of assistance."

The flash appeal would have provided money for food, health, education and short- and long-term shelter for the evicted.

While the evictions were taking place in July, the United Nations issued a separate $11.9 million appeal for those left homeless. Egeland said over 100 000 people at 50 different sites are being helped, primarily with food and tents.

The United Nations had hoped to reach 300 000 people from the July appeal, but the government never informed the United Nations where evictions were taking place. By the time UN officials arrived they had dispersed - Reuters
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