- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2005

NEW YORK — The United Nations yesterday condemned Zimbabwe’s razing of urban slums and markets as a throwback to “colonial-era laws,” and called on the government of President Robert Mugabe to halt further destruction.

However, the report avoided criticizing Mr. Mugabe by name and it called on international donors to send assistance.

The government’s bulldozing campaign is dubbed “Operation Restore Order” by the government and “Operation Tsunami” by those made homeless.

The U.N. report said the operation had claimed the homes or livelihoods of 700,000 desperately poor Zimbabweans, and affected as many as 2.4 million others.

Operation Restore Order “was carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering and, in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national and international law,” the report said, characterizing it as “a disastrous venture based on a set of colonial-era laws.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on Zimbabwe to recognize that a virtual state of emergency now exists, and to allow foreign aid workers unhindered access to affected areas.

“It is a profoundly distressing report, which confirms that [the operation] has done a catastrophic injustice to as many as 700,000 of Zimbabwe’s poorest citizens, through indiscriminate actions carried out with disquieting indifference to human suffering,” Mr. Annan said.

Zimbabwe’s government, which received the 83-page report Wednesday morning, condemned it as biased and inaccurate.

“The report described the operation in vastly judgmental language, which clearly demonstrates its inbuilt bias against the operation,” Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi told reporters in the capital, Harare.

Mr. Mumbengegwi said the authors of the report favored opposition positions over those of the government, according to news agency reports.

Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, a U.N. investigator who spent 14 days in the southern African nation to assess the damage and prepare the report, scrupulously avoided criticizing Mr. Mugabe for the policy, which began in May.

“I suggest the people who gave him bad advice should be held accountable,” she told reporters in New York.

Mrs. Tibaijuka, a Tanzanian who is executive director of U.N.-Habitat, the agency that deals with urban issues and housing, said it was beyond her mandate to discuss the motive for clearing the slums.

Zimbabwe said it was enforcing long-dormant laws and sought to impose order on chaotic urbanization and halt hoarding of scarce resources.

But opposition leaders, private aid groups and others have suggested the campaign has more to do with breaking up nascent political blocs and punishing urban voters who support the opposition political party.

Western diplomats praised the report yesterday and said that Zimbabwe, a member of the largely discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, may be discussed in the Security Council next week if China, Algeria and Tanzania can overcome their reluctance to get involved in what they consider the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

Once southern Africa’s garden basket, known for its bountiful crops and food exports, Zimbabwe has for nearly four years been in an increasingly desperate spiral downward.

Its earlier policy of expelling white commercial farmers and turning over the farms to landless blacks has created acute food shortages, and government policies have contributed to triple-digit inflation, a fuel crisis and shortages of hard currency.

“Throughout the month of June, [Operation Restore Order] targeted practically every town and business center in the country, as well as countless homes, leaving a trail of destruction in Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Gweru, Harare, Kadoma, Kwe, Marondera, Mutare, Rusape and Victoria Falls,” Mrs. Tibaijuka wrote in the report.

The military-style effort was soon extended to farm settlements until “practically no area designated as ‘urban’ was spared,” she wrote.

Despite the scope of the devestation, Mrs. Tibaijuka rejected calls by some human rights groups for the matter to be sent to the International Criminal Court as a crime against humanity.

She said that Zimbabwe is not a party to the court’s statute, and that the government did not appear to have a criminal intent in knocking down the largely illegal shacks.

Instead, her report stressed international aid.

“The impact will not be easy to redress and requires immediate large-scale and unconditional humanitarian assistance to protect those in need,” the report states.

The Zimbabwe government has announced its intention to earmark $350 million for “Operation Reconstruction and Rebuilding,” a sum that Mrs. Tibaijuka said the government cannot afford.

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