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African Union Initiates Zimbabwe Fact-Finding Mission

The African Union is sending a special rapporteur on a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe to examine the impact of the Harare government’s six-week campaign in which hundreds of thousands of unauthorized houses were destroyed, leaving an undetermined but large number of people homeless. A statement on the AU’s Web site identified the special rapporteur as Bahame Tom Nyanduga, a member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The statement said that Mr. Nyanduga would conduct a fact-finding mission between June 30 and July 4. In Zimbabwe he is to meet with authorities and with “relevant human rights organizations,” the statement said. Mr. Nyanduga will visit the communities of Hatcliff, Mbare, Mufakose and Chitungwiza, and the Harare-area holding camp of Caledonia Farm, among other locations. He will also go to rural villages where people have been relocated after losing their homes.

Meantime, United Nations special envoy Anna Tibaijuka continued to assess the consequences of the government’s housing crackdown. She traveled by plane to the eastern border town of Mutare late Friday after visiting Caledonia farm earlier in the day and Porta Farm, site of another holding camp, on Thursday. Sources said the displaced begged her for help, to which she responded that all parties would work to find a “permanent solution.” Reporter Sydney Sithole of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe described Mrs. Tibaijuka’s visit to Mutare.

Displaced people living at Caledonia Farm, 25 kilometers southeast of Harare, told another Studio 7 reporter that conditions there remain bleak. Mrs. Tibaijuka toured Caledonia Farm on Friday morning. Her staff handed out bread and juice to the crowd of displaced people. Thousands of families were moved to the camp after they lost their homes in Operation Murambatsvina. Irwin Chifera visited Caledonia Farm today and filed a report on the conditions there.

One human rights activist said that the U.N. envoy’s visit has allowed Mrs. Tibaijuka to measure the scale of the crisis in Zimbabwe. Spokeswoman Jessie Majome of the National Constitutional Assembly said reports in the official Herald newspaper indicating Mrs. Tibaijuka has endorsed Operation Murambatsvina should be taken with a grain of salt. Ms. Majome told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that she is encouraged the international community has become involved.

The United Nations special envoy faces certain challenges in getting a true picture of events from victims of Operation Murambatsvina. Some refused to tell the U.N. delegation their stories for fear of reprisal by state security agents. Mrs. Tibaijuka tried to allay such fears by taking testimony behind closed doors.

Sources among civil society organizations said she heard moving testimony from victims of the state crackdown including one young woman who gave birth on the rubble of her demolished home. Another victim spoke with reporter Chris Gande of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, asking that her name not be divulged.