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Harare Police Round Up Thousands Ahead of Slum-Clearance Anniversary

Police in Harare rounded up more than 10,000 homeless people and street vendors in the city center between Saturday and Monday, state media and other sources said, in an operation which evoked memories of the May-July 2005 slum clearance operation known as Operation Murambatsvina, days before the first anniversary of its launch.

The state-run Herald newspaper quoted Assistant Police Commissioner Munyaradzi Musariri, supervising the operation, as saying his forces rounded up 10,224 people whom the newspaper described as "squatters, vagrants and street youths."

The paper said the so-called Operation Round-Up had been under way since April 12, targeting "vagrants, street kids, touts and other disorderly elements roaming and loitering in the streets." Bulawayo police recently conducted a similar roundup.

Musariri told the newspaper those arrested would be sent to the rural districts where they came from after vetting or processing by police. But other sources said many of those rounded up have been sent to the Hopely Farm transit camp outside Harare.

Police Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena refused to comment on the whereabouts and circumstances of those rounded up in the past few days. But independent sources said authorities intended to remove them from the Hopely Farm transit camp and dump them in rural areas as far from the capital as possible, though authorities were said to be having trouble finding enough fuel to follow through on the plan.

Sources said street youths under the age of 17 were to be sent to the Northcourt Training Institute in Mount Hampden, about 18 kilometers west of Harare.

For perspective on why the government chose to undertake this operation during the same week as the one-year anniversary of the launch of Operation Murambatsvina, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with International Crisis Group Director for Southern Africa Peter Kagwanja in Pretoria, South Africa.

Even as Zimbabwean authorities rounded up the homeless and operators of informal businesses in Harare, a senior Ministry of Justice official told the Human and People's Rights Comission of the African Union, in session this week in Banjul, the Gambia, that the government is providing new homes for all those forcibly evicted in 2005.

Justice Ministry Permanent Secretary David Mangota told Commission members that Harare has submitted its response to a Commission resolution condemning alleged human rights abuses during Operation Murambatsvina. Commission Vice Chairwoman Sanjo Onaheng of Botswana confirmed the panel had received Harare's respons, but said it will only be made public after AU heads of state have received copies.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum public interest unit head Tafadzwa Mapfumo gave reporter Carole Gombakomba her reaction to Harare's response.

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