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US Envoy Offers Bleak Assessment of Zimbabwe's New Unity Government

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee on Tuesday reaffirmed the American position that financial and travel sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle will not be lifted, and that Washington will not expand aid beyond humanitarian relief until the unity government recently installed in Harare gives evidence it is serious about reform.

In an interview with National Public Radio's Morning Edition program, McGee said Washington wants to see "better movement" toward compliance with world standards of good governance including in particular respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Asked for his assessment of the unity government formed under a September agreement on power-sharing signed by Mr. Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change founder Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, along with rival MDC formation leader Arthur Mutambara, McGee responded that a national unity government was the only option left.

The government was formed last month, five months after the signature of a power-sharing agreement and nearly a year after Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF was roundly defeated in general elections and the president himself was outpolled by Tsvangirai. That opened a period of political violence leading to regional brokerage of the power-sharing arrangement.

"We think that this new unity government is one that had just has to be there, we did not see much option," McGee said. "This is a government that had to take place." He added that "examples of real power-sharing [within the government] are few and far between," though praising the efforts of MDC officials who have been assigned a number of ministries, in particular Finance Minister Tendai Biti, secretary general of Tsvangirai's MDC.

McGee said Washington is "not going to open up the pipeline so far as development aid is concerned," as opposed to humanitarian assistance, until the new government shows it is serious about democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and economic freedom.

"As we speak right now there are still farm invasions that are going on in Zimbabwe," said McGee, referring to recent takeovers of white-owned commercial farms in a bid by loyalists of Mr. Mugabe to complete the often-violent land reform program he launched in 2000 and which has been blamed for the decade-long decline of the farm-based economy.

"There are human rights activists who have gone missing over the last several months and no one knows where these people are," McGee continued. We've had some very very high level important names released from prison, but there are still other activists who are still in prison on nothing more than trumped-up charges."

Though the U.S. government has declined to provide development aid or other funding to the new Harare government, McGee noted that U.S. humanitarian aid since he took over as top envoy in Harare 15 months ago totals some US$230 million dollars.

Washington's hard line on linking expanded assistance to clear progress on a broad agenda of reforms could throw cold water on efforts by the Southern African Development Community to organize a US$2 billion near-term bailout package for Harare.

SADC leaders are meeting in Swaziland on Monday and sources in the organization told VOA they hope that Western governments and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund will loosen their pursestrings to help fund Zimbabwe's recovery.

For perspective on the international debate, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to human rights scholar Wilbert Mandinde of Essex University in Britain who said the bottom line is that the Harare government must change course.

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