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Zimbabwe aid ban 'puts millions at risk' PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 07 June 2008

Millions of people in Zimbabwe already facing economic hardship and hunger are being put at risk by a government ban on relief organizations, the United Nations warned Friday, saying it would urge a lifting of restrictions, reports CNN.

Agostinho Zacarias, the U.N.'s top humanitarian coodinator in Zimbabwe said he planned to meet with authorities to ask them to let aid agencies resume providing food, clean water, medical care and other services.

"This decision is likely to affect millions of people," he said.

In another development Friday, Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested for the second time this week, his spokesman said.

Zimbabwe imposed the aid agency ban Thursday, accusing international aid groups of political meddling ahead of a June 27 runoff election that opposition groups say long-time President Robert Mugabe is trying to rig through intimidation.

Bright Motonga, deputy information minister for Zimbabwe, accused several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of telling people they would not receive food unless they voted for an opposition presidential candidate.

Agencies must re-register with the government and state their purpose clearly to continue working in Zimbabwe, he said, and the government hopes that happens soon.

Kenneth Walker, a spokesman for the aid agency CARE, told CNN on Friday that the government's action has sowed confusion.

"All the NGOs are in the dark. They have no idea what this letter means. They have no idea how long it's going to last," he said.

"There's some serious concern about the impact on the millions of Zimbabweans who now won't be receiving food aid, clean water and sanitation facilities, help with agriculture and a wide variety of other services that the NGOs provide."

Henrietta Fore, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, urged the government of Zimbabwe Thursday to "lift the suspension on all international aid agencies involved in humanitarian work in the country."

Fore told CNN that the "suspension is a direct threat to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of innocent people in Zimbabwe."

In another development on Thursday, a convoy of U.S. and British diplomats was halted by Mugabe supporters and threatened with violence in what both countries have condemned as a major breach of diplomatic protocol.  Watch condemnation over diplomatic detentions »

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee said the British and American vehicles were halted at a roadblock, where Mugabe supporters slashed their tires and threatened to burn the vehicles with the diplomats inside.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga denied McGee's claims, insisting the diplomats were detained after trying to flee police at a roadblock.

The alleged incident, which ended with the release of the unharmed envoys, will be seen as the latest in a long line of efforts by Mugabe's regime to antagonize international critics -- particularly the country's British former colonial rulers.

And threats aimed at what McGee said was a mission to check on election-linked violence will do little to ease concerns over the June 27 vote, despite claims by Mugabe that he will end his three-decade rule if he loses.
Opposition politicians, led by Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change party, insist they won an initial round of voting in March and say Mugabe supporters are intimidating voters ahead of the runoff election.

In the latest incident on Friday, Tsvangirai was stopped at a roadblock and taken to a police station as he was on his way to a regularly scheduled rally, his spokesman, George Sibotshiwe said.

"We've noticed that it's going to be a common trend in this campaign and obviously the government and Robert Mugabe are trying to prevent the president from going about his campaign freely and peacefully," Sibotshiwe said.

He said that unless the African Union deploys peacekeepers to the country, "campaigning in Zimbabwe is now virtually impossible."

" What I can convey is that since this morning we have had 10 or 11 central intelligence organization vehicles following us everywhere. There was heavy intimidation with armed military people following us everywhere as well and they basically pushed the president up to this roadblock before arresting him."
Sibotshiwe said there were no grounds for the arrest.
"The way they work here is they don't give you any reason," he said. Obviously, there is no charge."

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