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Zimbabwe Opposition: Mugabe in Denial on Humanitarian Aid

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s statement Sunday before the United Nations General Assembly saying his country has no humanitarian crisis has drawn fire from a range of critics who say he is refusing to acknowledge serious food shortages and the desperate plight of those displaced by Harare’s May-July slum clearance program.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan took up the question of humanitarian aid with Mr. Mugabe one day before the Zimbabwean president told the international community that hunger in his country was a fabrication by his enemies in the West. He added that the United States was in no position to criticize given the sluggish federal response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans and the adjoining Gulf coast region.

A diplomatic source said Mr. Mugabe in his session with Mr. Annan insisted Harare does not need assistance, but agreed under pressure from the secretary general to let the U.N. bring food into the country to supplement government supplies.

He said that Mr. Annan rejected Mr. Mugabe’s demand that government distribute food aid. United Nations spokeswoman Marie Okabe said it was additionally agreed that the U.N. will send a representative from its humanitarian affairs coordination office by November to assess food needs and recommend mechanisms for distribution.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with International Crisis Group director for Southern Africa Peter Kagwanja about the discussions in New York, asking him what more the international community can do in Zimbabwe.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says President Mugabe’s continued denial of a humanitarian crisis is depriving Zimbabweans of desperately needed aid.

MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi told Studio 7 reporter Carole Gombakomba that the political opposition considers Mr. Mugabe’s message to the world “unfortunate.”

Humanitarian groups which have been helping victims of Operation Murambatsvina, the government’s May-July slum demolition campaign, said they were disappointed by the “false image” which the president conveyed to the international community.

Carole Gombakomba spoke with Rev. Ray Motsi, one of the church activists who has been distributing food and blankets to the displaced in Harare and Bulawyo.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...