- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

NEW YORK — The British ambassador to the United Nations yesterday demanded that the divided U.N. Security Council take up the Zimbabwean government’s continuing demolition of urban slums, insisting that council members hear a presentation before U.N. rapporteur Anna Tibaijuka leaves New York tomorrow.

But resistance is expected from Russia, Algeria and especially China, which yesterday announced the signing of several economic agreements with visiting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

“I would say it is fairly exceptional to see an exchange like this,” one council envoy said of yesterday’s private discussions. Diplomats described a tense room with occasional flares of emotion.

Last week, Mrs. Tibaijuka released an unusually harsh assessment of Harare’s Operation Restore Order, which has left 700,000 Zimbabweans homeless and jobless and affected another 2.4 million people.

Despite repeated calls by the United Nations and many governments, Zimbabwean paramilitary forces have continued to level densely populated slums. Over the weekend, militias swept into Porta Farm, 22 miles west of the Zimbabwean capital, forcing residents to destroy thousands of shacks, the Associated Press reported, quoting U.N. Resident Coordinator Agostinho Zacarias.

The United States, which has been critical of the Mugabe government’s land reform schemes, supports a council discussion of the Zimbabwe destruction.

“The situation is so unstable it threatens neighboring countries,” said acting U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson. “It’s verging on a crisis situation and the council should at least get more information and take action on it.”

The World Food Program has warned of a food crisis, she added, and noted that there are reports of retaliation against people who cooperated with the U.N. investigator during her two-week visit earlier this month.

France, Romania and Denmark are also adamant that the destruction of shelter and the informal business sector could have deleterious effects on the region, and is well within the council’s purview.

Other council nations are intent on protecting Mr. Mugabe from international scrutiny, Western diplomats said.

Russian diplomats warned that it was too soon to force the issue, but suggested the council hear from Mrs. Tibaijuka in a sort of “non-meeting” that would set no precedent and carry little diplomatic weight.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry is said to have responded that he would be proud to set a precedent of responding to people in such distress.

Algeria’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mourad Benmehidi, argued that the council should defer the matter to the African Union, diplomats said.

China, which is hosting Mr. Mugabe on a six-day visit, insisted that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan be allowed to go to Zimbabwe before the council becomes involved.

Mr. Annan said Monday that he would like to accept Harare’s offer to visit, but his spokesman yesterday indicated that it would be a long time before that happens.

The secretary-general has only “accepted in principle” the offer, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. He added that a trip will not be scheduled until the destruction is halted and the government reaches out to opposition parties and other groups.

“It’s not imminent,” Mr. Dujarric told reporters, adding that as conditions for the visit “evictions must cease, and humanitarian aid must be provided to the people in need.”

Mr. Annan made similar entreaties when the Tibaijuka report was released last week. That report blames advisers for the “disastrous venture” but largely spares Mr. Mugabe.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, Mr. Mugabe and Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao signed several agreements on trade and economic and technical cooperation.

Zimbabwe, which is suffering from 70 percent unemployment and triple-digit inflation, apparently won Chinese financing for a power plant, and is seeking additional lines of credit.

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