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Top U.N. Political Officer Headed for Zimbabwe Next Month

Zimbabwe and the United Nations looked headed for another potential showdown with a high-ranking political envoy set to visit Harare in January to discuss humanitarian relief for those displaced by the state’s May-July slum clearance drive.

U.N. Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari will take his turn at persuading President Robert Mugabe and his ministers to expand cooperation with the U.N. on providing Zimbabwe’s homeless with shelter and its hungry with food.

Mr. Gambari, a Nigerian, was named under secretary for political affairs in June after serving as under secretary general and special advisor on Africa, promoting U.N. and international support for African development, including through the New Partnership for African Development, or NEPAD. He was Nigeria's permanent representative to the U.N. before joining the Secretariat in 1999. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has made a number of efforts to promote a solution to the Zimbabwean crisis.

Mr. Gambari could require all of his diplomatic skills. Mr. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party resolved at its recent annual congress not to entertain any more “clandestine” U.N. envoys other than Secretary General Kofi Annan – a thinly veiled reference to special envoy Anna Tibaijuka, author of a scathing report on the government’s slum clearance campaign, and Jan Egeland, who upon his return to New York expressed perplexity at President Mugabe’s rejection of U.N. emergency tent shelters.

Led by the United States, Denmark and Japan, the Security Council recommended that Mr. Gambari travel to assess the situation in Zimbabwe and ensure that dialogue continues between Harare and the world body. A spokesman for Mr. Gambari confirmed the interest among Council members in the Gambari mission.

How Harare will respond remains to be seen. Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Irene Petras, program coordinator of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, for perspective on whether Harare might seek to block the visit.

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