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No Firm Plans for Annan Visit to Harare - UN Officials

A Zimbabwean government official says United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected in the country in March. But U.N. officials in Harare and New York say no date has been set for an official visit that was proposed by Harare in July after a U.N. envoy issued a scathing report on the country's shantytown demolition campaign.

The semi-official Herald newspaper quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman John Mayowe as saying confirmation of the March visit was given to President Robert Mugabe last month at a French-African summit in Mali, by U.N. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari. Harare has raised objections to a proposed visit by Gambari himself, saying it has seen enough U.N. envoys and only wants to see Annan himself.

U.N. officials said Friday that the Herald report was inaccurate, and that a visit by top political officer Gambari could still take place before Annan shows up in Harare.

Topping the agenda of issues outstanding between Harare and the U.N. is delivery of more extensive humanitarian assistance to the estimated 700,000 people displaced by Operation Murambatsvina (Shona for “Drive Out Rubbish”). Authorities demolished thousands of homes and informal market stalls deemed to be standing illegally, though many razed structures were well constructed and authorized by local authorities.

U.N. humanitarian aid officials have expressed frustration with Harare's refusal to let them set up tents for the many homeless Zimbabweans without shelter in the current rainy season which has seen torrential downpours across the country. Government officials have also proposed to tear down a prototype emergency shelter that U.N. workers built at a transit camp near Harare, complaining that it is "substandard."

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe interviewed U.N. resident and humanitarian aid coordinator for Zimbabwe Agostinho Zacharias, who said there was no impending Annan visit. Reporter Zulu asked Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Otto Saki why Harare officials are so anxious to see Annan while snubbing Gambari.

More reports from VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe…