- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

HARARE, Zimbabwe (Agence France-Presse) — President Robert Mugabe yesterday hit back at what he termed “unprecedented” international criticism of his government for its neighborhood demolition drive and said there were plans to resettle the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans left homeless.

“I am addressing you against the backdrop of unprecedented renewed attacks on our party, our government and country by the usual British-led anti-Zimbabwe Western coalition,” he said in an address to his ruling ZANU-PF party.

Mr. Mugabe singled out former colonial ruler Britain, which has repeatedly criticized Zimbabwe for human rights abuses and the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, saying it was leading international condemnation.

“The latest pretext is the clean-up operation we launched nearly a month ago, whose objectives are both clear and laudable,” said Mr. Mugabe in the address, excerpts of which were shown on state television and quoted by the New Ziana news agency.

“This is the program which has drawn broadsides from a motley of our habitual critics, led of course by Britain and as usual supported by the Washington administration and the government of Australia,” he said.

“Even more ridiculous is the fact that the new World Bank president, himself an ex-official of the American administration, joining in the attack without any firsthand impression of what is going on here. What has the World Bank to do with it?” Mr. Mugabe asked.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz described the evictions as a “tragedy” when he traveled to South Africa last week.

But more criticism of the demolitions came yesterday even as Mr. Mugabe made his defense.

Ten human rights experts, who report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission on issues from torture to health, said they “deplore and demand an end to the government’s campaign of forced evictions.”

The crackdown has violated international human rights rules, they said in a statement from Geneva. They also expressed “deep concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation of respect for civil, political, economic and social rights in Zimbabwe.”

British charity Action Aid International, meanwhile, urged African regional groupings and pan-continental organizations to pressure Zimbabwe.

For the past month, police have been carrying out Operation Murambatsvina, which means “drive out the rubbish,” demolishing backyard shacks and shop stalls in cities and towns across Zimbabwe and leaving between 200,000 and 1.5 million people homeless, according to the U.N. and the political opposition.

Mr. Mugabe said he found it hypocritical for Western countries to criticize the demolition campaign of the “illegal structures” when he had agreed to let a U.N. special envoy carry out an assessment of the situation.

He said the visit by envoy Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka would enable U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to “understand and appreciate what Zimbabwe is trying to do for its people who deserve better than the shacks that were now being romanticized as fitting habitats for them.”

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