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Forthcoming Visit by UN Diplomat Touches a Nerve in Harare

The government of Zimbabwe is working to block an impending visit to the country by United Nations Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, having taken issue with assessments by previous U.N. envoys of the humanitarian crisis resulting from the controversial slum-clearance drive Harare launched in May.

Government officials charged that Mr. Gambari’s visit has been promoted by Western countries on the U.N. Security Council aiming to discredit the country's leadership.

The Security Council urged a visit by the Nigerian diplomat after a briefing from Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, who made an assessment trip to Zimbabwe in December. He reported progress on expanding food relief and AIDS care, but was unable to convince top Zimbabwean officials, including President Robert Mugabe, to let the U.N. provide tents to shelter thousands made homeless by the state’s demolition of shantytown dwellings.

Since Mr. Egeland’s visit, Harare has taken issue with a model temporary home which the U.N. built, proposing to demolish that prototype for a relief program as well.

In July, three months into the forced eviction and demolition campaign, special envoy Anna Tibaijuka, director of the Nairobi-based UN-Habitat agency, delivered a scathing report to the Security Council on the impact of the operation. She estimated that some 700,000 Zimbabweans lost their homes or their livelihoods, or both, in the drive.

The United States, Britain, Denmark and Japan took the lead in the Security Council in recommending the visit by Mr. Gambari, who took on the U.N. political post in June after serving as under secretary general for African affairs and development. Nigeria has on occasion tried to broker a solution to Zimbabwe’s political crisis.

Harare has not welcomed such Nigerian mediation, and at its recent congress the ruling ZANU-PF party resolved not to entertain any more “clandestine” U.N. envoys – with the sole exception of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan has agreed in principle to visit, but signaled he wants to see progress in critical issues first.

So the Gambari initiative represents an escalation in the U.N.’s humanitarian initiative.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Zimbabwe’s U.N. ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, who confirmed that Harare opposes the Gambari visit because it expects he will reach the same conclusions as his predecessors.

Reporter Zulu sought perspective on the standoff from Zimbabwean political expert Innocent Sithole, who is based at the University of Leicester in Great Britain.

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