A showdown was looming on Thursday between Harare and the international group of eminent persons called the Elders, three of whom were scheduled to spend two days in the country beginning Saturday to conduct an assessment of the humanitarian crisis there.
But state media reported that Harare was telling former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former United States President Jimmy Carter and women and child rights activist Graca Machel, wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, not to come.
The state-controlled Herald and Chronicle newspapers said the three Elders were being urged to postpone their trip, describing the Elders organization as hostile to Zimbabwe and accusing Annan of being "openly critical of President Mugabe and his administration" in the past.
Citing an unnamed senior government official, the Herald said the visit "has been deemed a partisan mission by a group of people with partisan interests."
But Annan issued a statement saying he and his colleagues nonetheless intended to travel to Harare on Saturday as planned. An Elders official said there was “no change of plan.”
Annan said the elders are “deeply concerned about the impact of the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe on the population.”He stressed that the group has no intention of involving itself in deadlocked negotiations for a proposed power-sharing government.
Zimbabwean Ambassador to the United Nations Boniface Chidyausiku told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Annan and the Elders must respect Zimbabwe's Harare's sovereignty, saying that should instead lobby Washington to ease economic and travel sanctions which he said were to blame for the country's humanitarian crisis.
International relations expert David Monyae of Harare commented that the diplomatic row did little to help the struggling Zimbabwean people.