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US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Reports Little Progress In Engaging Harare

United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee says he has not made as much progress as he had hoped in engaging senior Zimbabwean government officials since taking up his assignment in Harare in November 2007.

Among members of President Robert Mugabe's cabinet he has so far only managed to work with Health Minister David Parirenyatwa on projects to stem the spread and help those living with HIV/AIDS - the United States is the leading funder of such efforts.

The U.S. ambassador expressed confidence in the Zimbabwe crisis resolution process mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community, despite recent setbacks which have led opposition officials and observers to declare the so-called SADC process a failure.

The negotiations deadlocked over the issue of the timing of elections, and President Robert Mugabe's recent decision to call elections March 29 led opposition negotiators to conclude that he had effectively swept aside the crisis resolution process.

McGee expressed concern about the conditions in the country ahead of the elections, citing official obstacles to auditing voter rolls and the extremely limited distribution of a report by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on house redistricting as indications of an uneven playing field in the presidential, parliamentary and local elections.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper took aim at McGee this week, accusing him of laying the groundwork for the U.S. government to say the elections were not free and fair if Mr. Mugabe should be re-elected and ZANU-PF maintain its majority.

Herald writer Isdore Guvamombe said McGee has made such comments because the country has "not approached a single foreign donor" seeking election funding.

McGee told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he will continue to seek to engage Harare and to call for free and fair elections.

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