- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

JOHANNESBURG | Zimbabwe has refused to let Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and a South African human rights advocate visit the impoverished country for a humanitarian mission, the three said Saturday.

The former U.N. secretary-general, the former U.S. president and rights advocate Graca Machel had planned to assess the southern African country’s needs. They are members of the Elders, a group formed by former South African President Nelson Mandela to foster peace and tackle world conflicts.

Mr. Annan said no official reason had been given for the refusal, but Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper reported that the group had been asked to “come at a later date” to accommodate the crop-planting season. It quoted an unnamed source as saying they were seen as antagonistic toward Zimbabwe’s government.

Zimbabweans are suffering from disease and hunger while political crisis over a power-sharing government occupies its politicians. A current cholera outbreak has killed nearly 300 people in Zimbabwe, the United Nations said.

But the three were told Friday night by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating the political crisis, that efforts to secure travel visas fora two-day trip had failed.

“We are very disappointed that the government of Zimbabwe would not permit us to come in, would not cooperate,” Mr. Carter said at a news conference in Johannesburg.

It was the first time the 2002 Nobel Peace laureate has been denied permission to carry out a mission in any country, he said.

Mrs. Machel, a rights advocate for women and children who is married to Mr. Mandela, said she was denied a visa to visit Zimbabwe in July when she had planned to lead a women’s delegation.

The Elders had said the trip was entirely separate from regional attempts to get Zimbabwe’s longtime president, Robert Mugabe, and his rivals to implement a power-sharing agreement stalled since September.

Later Saturday, Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, met the group at a hotel in Johannesburg, saying he was disappointed they could not meet under “better circumstances.”

Mr. Tsvangirai accuses Mr. Mugabe — who has been in power since Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence from Britain — of trying to hold onto powerful Cabinet posts.

The political impasse has left the country without leadership as its economy collapses, with deadly consequences. Lack of cash to maintain water and sewer systems, for example, has led to the cholera outbreak.

“It seems obvious to me that the leaders of the government are immune to reaching out for help for their own people,” Mr. Carter said.

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