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Rebuffed By Harare, Annan & Elders Pursue Zimbabwe Rescue Mission

The delegation of Elders led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that was rebuffed this weekend by the Zimbabwean government will pursue its proposed mission in the country aiming to promote and coordinate international aid to mitigate an "intolerable" and deepening humanitarian crisis, Annan told VOA in an interview.

Annan's delegation of so-called Elders, which includes former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and human rights advocate Graça Machel, had proposed to visit Zimbabwe on Saturday and Sunday to assess the burgeoning humanitarian crisis, but was fended off by the government of President Robert Mugabe which refused to grant entry visas to the three.

Since then Annan and his fellow Elders have resolved to pursue their mission from outside Zimbabwe's borders. They met Monday with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, who warned that unless Zimbabwean political leaders overcame their differences and form a unity government quickly, "the situation will get worse and may implode and collapse."

In an interview, Annan told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the humanitarian crisis "is something the government has not been able to deal with alone," therefore the Elders propose to provide a catalyst or spur to international action.

The Harare government "has not come out plainly to say that they cannot handle it and they need assistance, but the fact is the U.N. agencies and the international community have been supporting the Zimbabwean people over the past couple of years, and this of course is bound to continue and we expect it will get much worse by January-February."

He noted the U.N. food agencies have predicted that by the first quarter of 2009 some 5.1 million Zimbabweans - half the population - will need food aid to fend off starvation.

"So regardless of what the government says it has done, it does need help from the outside and the U.N. agencies do need help from donors, and this is the contribution we are here to make, to make sure people understand what is going on, that the donor community is energized, and we sustain the effort," Annan told VOA.

"Our concern is the people," Annan said. "It is intolerable that the people of Zimbabwe should find themselves in this situation."

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