- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

Says leader is starving Zimbabwe

ROME — Robert Mugabe’s invitation to attend the 60th anniversary celebrations of the U.N. food agency has infuriated the agency’s U.S. envoy, who said the Zimbabwean president’s policies were helping to starve his people.

Mr. Mugabe, who is exempt from a European Union travel ban when on United Nations’ business, arrived in Rome on Saturday, having accepted an invitation to attend the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) gathering today. Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the FAO, said he was amazed that Mr. Mugabe had been invited.

“I believe I can speak for the U.S. government when it comes to Mugabe. They feel he has abused his country, he has abused his people,” Mr. Hall said in a telephone interview.

“It is a mockery of the poor when a man like this comes to an event like this. He should not have been invited.”

Zimbabwe is grappling with its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, and aid groups have estimated that 5 million of its about 13 million people may need food aid this year. Mr. Mugabe’s critics say his government policies have exacerbated the hunger.

Mr. Mugabe blames Zimbabwe’s economic crisis on sanctions that it says former colonial power Britain has organized in retribution for the sometimes violent redistribution of white-owned land to poor black farmers.

Mr. Hall said he would be taking up the decision to invite Mr. Mugabe with the FAO. He said the United States had given $200 million in aid to Zimbabwe since 2002.

The latest statistics from the World Food Program, released Friday to coincide with the anniversary, said 6.2 million people worldwide had died from hunger and related diseases this year.

WFP Executive Director James Morris said the number of chronically hungry was on the rise again after decades of progress.

Mr. Mugabe’s spokesman was not available to comment on Mr. Hall’s remarks. But an FAO spokesman said Mr. Mugabe, like other heads of state, would have the opportunity to address FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf and reporters today.

The European Union imposed travel sanctions on Zimbabwean officials after accusations of vote rigging in parliamentary polls in 2000 and in Mr. Mugabe’s re-election two years later. He is still allowed to travel to U.N. events.

U.S. officials said last month that Washington was preparing to slap travel sanctions on Mr. Mugabe, members of his government and their extended families.

Mr. Mugabe made headlines on his last visit to Rome, when he shook the hand of Britain’s Prince Charles during the funeral service for Pope John Paul II.

The handshake embarrassed Britain. The royal household said the prince had been taken by surprise.

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