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US State Department Human Rights Report Raises Hackles In Harare

The Zimbabwean government's move this week against suspect nongovernmental organizations and its termination last week of a U.S.-funded program to develop the committee system in the country's parliament both appear to have been prompted by Harare's reading of of a recent U.S. State Department report on human rights.

The State Department report on its human rights and democracy programs, published annually, says the U.S. strategy is to keep pressure on Harare while supporting efforts by the political opposition and civil society to increase the country's democratic space.

But Zimbabwean government officials say their reading of the report is that the U.S. aim in Zimbabwe is "regime change" - removing President Robert Mugabe - and now appear to be scrutinizing all U.S. activities mentioned in the human rights report.

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe on Tuesday that the government's decision to end the parliamentary program was "unfortunate and regrettable."

He said the program had been funded and undertaken by the State University of New York at Harare's request. He added that if the U.S. objective were regime change it would not have spelled it out in a document widely available to the public.

Dell said he was cautiously optimistic that mediation by South African President Thabo Mbeki in the Zimbabwe crisis at the behest of the Southern African Development Community could bring about free and fair elections in March 2008.

Zimbabwean Ambassador to the United States Machivenyika Mapuranga, speaking from Washington, defended the government's decision to terminate the USAID-funded parliamentary program and to take steps to deregister all nongovernmental organizations so it can weed out those allegedly serving Western aims.

Mapuranga told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye that Zimbabwe is acting within its sovereign rights in halting programs it considers inimical to its interests.

For more stories from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...