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U.N.: Zimbabwe slum demolition ‘unjustified’

A U.N. report condemned the Zimbabwe government for destroying urban slums in an action that has left 700,000 people homeless or jobless, according to excerpts obtained Thursday by The AP.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A U.N. report condemned the Zimbabwe government for destroying urban slums in a “disastrous venture” that has left 700,000 people homeless or jobless and demanded that those responsible be punished, according to excerpts obtained late Thursday.

The report, to be released Friday morning, said a further 2.4 million people have been affected in varying degrees by the countrywide campaign in which thousands of shantytowns, ramshackle markets and makeshift homes have been demolished.

Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Trash, has been “carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering,” said the report’s executive summary, obtained by The Associated Press.

The report, using language unusually harsh for the United Nations, called for the government to stop the destruction immediately. It said the operation clearly violated international law.

It did not assign blame for the destruction, saying only that it was launched on the advice of a few people who were not identified. Yet, it suggests that the act might qualify as a crime against humanity and urged Zimbabwe to prosecute those responsible.

Mugabe defends operation
President Robert Mugabe’s government has defended the operation as an urban cleanup drive, and has promised to help the displaced rebuild. Zimbabwe’s opposition says it is aimed at breaking up its strongholds among the urban poor and forcing them into rural areas where they can be more easily controlled by chiefs sympathetic to the government.

But the report said that even if the operation is an urban cleanup drive, the campaign — which some have called Operation Restore Order — has been a “crash” operation that will take years for Zimbabwe to recover from.

“Even if motivated by a desire to ensure a semblance of order in the chaotic manifestations of rapid urbanization and rising poverty characteristic of African cities, nonetheless Operation Restore Order turned out to be a disastrous venture,” the report said.

While not outright demanding one, it suggests that an independent inquiry could help determine if there was criminal negligence leading to any deaths. The government has been given an advance copy of the report but has made no public comment so far.

Zimbabwe promises homes by 2008
Zimbabwe has pledged $325 million to provide 1.2 million houses or building plots by 2008 but the report said economists have expressed doubt that the government can afford such a project at a time when Zimbabwe is wracked by triple-digit inflation and in the throes of a severe food crisis.

The report was compiled by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, who spent two weeks in Zimbabwe studying the effects of the campaign. She delivered the report to Annan earlier this week.

Tibaijuka, the Tanzanian head of Nairobi-based U.N. Habitat which deals with the plight of cities, has said she would immediately dispatch an officer to help Zimbabwe meet its housing needs.

In the report, she called for a massive international humanitarian operation to help the masses of poor people left without housing or jobs.