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Harare Accepts UN Offer of Emergency Shelter

The United Nations could start building temporary homes for those displaced by the Zimbabwe government's May-July slum clearance operation by next week, following Harare's acceptance of the humanitarian aid in a reversal of its earlier position.

The government of Zimbabwe last month rejected an initial U.N. offer of emergency housing, denying there was a crisis, drawing an expression of dismay from Secretary General Kofi Annan. The U.N.'s top relief official is due in Harare in December.

The U.N. plans to build 20,000 one-room homes measuring 4.7 by 2.6 meters, set on concrete slabs and constructed of concrete and brick, a senior U.N. official said.

Reporter Blessing Zulu spoke with Hiro Ueki, acting director of information at the U.N. Information Center, about the U.N. initiative to provide housing to a significant number of the hundreds of thousands of families displaced by the "cleanup" operation.

Reporter Zulu spoke with Zimbabwe's ambassador to the U.N., Boniface Chidyausiku, and asked him why Harare had shifted its position over the past month.

Otto Saki of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said Harare's volte-face proved the need for shelter existed earlier but that the government wanted to hide it.

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