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Zimbabwe Ministers Repair to Victoria Falls For Reconstruction Summit

Cabinet members of Zimbabwe's fledgling unity government gathered in the resort town of Victoria Falls on Friday for a three-day World Bank-organized retreat intended to help the government's disparate elements bond and forge an effective recovery program.

President Robert Mugabe opened the retreat and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai spelled out the objective for the conference, urging his fellow ministers to set aside past political differences and focus on delivering services to the Zimbabwean people.

The retreat is funded by Harare and the World Bank, the latter representing a so-called Multi-Donor Trust Fund that met in Washington last month to set a common aid strategy. About 70 ministers and deputy ministers were present in the northwestern town known for the Zambezi River waterfalls named for the 19th century British monarch.

Present Mugabe in opening remarks said the economic recovery rests on the cabinet’s ability to perform and deliver. He said the Zimbabwean people are looking to the government to reduce widespread poverty, create jobs, and restore once-vibrant food production.

Mr. Tsvangirai stressed the importance of restoring the rule of law without which, he warned, international donors from whom Zimbabwe seeks funds would remain sidelined.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said Friday that the United States and other donor countries stand ready to provide development aid to Zimbabwe, if the unity government continues on the path to reform. The statement followed an appeal by Mr. Tsvangirai who argued that the Zimbabwean people should not be obliged to suffer further.

VOA Correspondent David Gollust reported from the State Department.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe provided highlights of the keynote speech delivered on Friday by Prime Minister Tsvangirai.

Meanwhile, the government came under fire for spending money on the retreat when it lacks the means to provide essential public services and pay state employees. Critics also focused on reports Harare bought Mercedes Benz vehicles for ministers at US$50,000 apiece.

Economist Eric Bloch told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the important thing is that the World Bank is getting involved again in Zimbabwe.

On Studio 7 LiveTalk Friday, hosts Brenda Moyo and Blessing Zulu examined the question of reconstruction funding and Western conditions with political analyst Msekiwa Makwanya of London and human rights lawyer Emmanuel Hlabangana in South Africa.

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