- Title: VARIOUS: Zimbabwe government criticised for aid ban
- Date: 7th June 2008
- Summary: (W3) UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION, MALAWI (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF PEOPLE RECEIVING FOOD AID (2 SHOTS)
- Reuters ID: LVA84Z5MTI2PU8GKFRAU06OW1PH2
- Duration: 00:00:25
- Aspect Ratio:
- Topics: International Relations,Social Services / Welfare
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None
- Story Text: Aid agencies, the UN and Britain's foreign minister say the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe will be exacerbated by the decision of Robert Mugabe's government to suspend aid.
The decision of Zimbabwe's government to suspend all work by aid groups provoked international condemnation on Friday (June 6).
John Holmes, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, called the move "deplorable" and requested unrestricted access for the affected humanitarian groups.
"If voluntary organizations and NGOs are not able to work, humanitarian aid for at least two million of the most poor and vulnerable of Zimbabwe's people, particularly children, will be severely restricted, although we will do our best to make up for this. I therefore strongly urge the Government to reconsider and rescind this decision as soon as possible," he said.
The ban came nearly a week after the government of President Robert Mugabe banned some aid groups from distributing food, accusing them of campaigning for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in elections held on March 29.
Zimbabwe, once one of Africa's most prosperous countries, has seen food production plummet since 2000 when Mugabe's government began seizing thousands of white-owned farms as part of a land redistribution programme to help poor blacks.
Many of the farms have ended up in the hands of Mugabe loyalists, and the country now faces chronic shortages of meat, milk and other basic foods.
It has been forced to rely on handouts and imports to feed its people.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour described the move by the Harare authorities was as "absolutely outrageous".
"I think it's a true perversion of democracy to deprive millions of people of fundamental access to food that the government is not, and cannot otherwise provide before elections on pretext of interference with the electoral processes. I think it's a very cynical and frankly quite offensive perversion of any notion of democracy and it's against international human rights law," he declared.
Asked what could be done about the situation, Arbour added: "I think one has to make every effort to persuade the government to abide by an international human rights legal framework that certainly all those who aspire to a democratic form of governance would recognise as fundamental. And I think this is not consistent with, with these, internationally accepted norms."
Kenneth Walker, the CARE International Africa Communications Manager told Reuters the people of Zimbabwe were suffering badly.
"You have a situation, a very dire economy in Zimbabwe, they say 80 per cent of the people have no job, inflation is more than 100,000 per cent, just finding the next meal is an extremely major exercise for a great many people. So several million people without access to food aid health services, education, clean water and sanitation services and facilities are at risk," he said.
Zimbabwe has accused CARE International and other non-governmental groups of political involvement, including campaigning for the MDC. CARE and others deny the charges.
The United States provided more than 170 million U.S. dollars in food aid to Zimbabwe in 2007.
Former colonial power Britain, human rights groups and Zimbabwe's opposition accuse Mugabe of a campaign of violence to try to keep his 28-year hold on power. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says 65 people have been killed.
In London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the future of Zimbabwe was at stake.
"Well it's very important that we don't play Mr Mugabe's games. He wants this to be an argument between Zimbabwe and Britain," he said.
"In fact it is an argument about two visions for the future of Zimbabwe. And that future can only be built by a government that has actually got the welfare of its own people at heart. Not a fight with Britain or other countries. And that's why we've got to make sure that humanitarian aid gets through. But we've also got to make sure that the election goes ahead on the 27th of June," Miliband added.
The European Union demanded on Friday (June 6) the immediate lifting of a ban on work by aid groups in Zimbabwe, saying hundreds of thousands of people in the country depended on such assistance for their survival.
"This ban must be lifted right away," EU Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said in a statement.
The bloc also expressed serious concern about the detention on Friday of Morgan Tsvangirai for a second time this week whilst campaigning for a June 27 presidential run-off.
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- Embargoed:22nd June 2008 13:00