June 28, 2005

Envoy wants ‘comprehensive’ picture of Zimbabwe

By Stella Mapenzauswa

HARARE (Reuters) - A U.N. special envoy plans to compile a"comprehensive" picture of Zimbabwe's crackdown on illegalshantytowns which has left a estimated 300,000 people homeless,the world body said on Tuesday.

Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of housing agencyUN-HABITAT, has been in Zimbabwe since Sunday on a missionduring which she is expected to meet President Robert Mugabeover the crackdown, widely condemned at home and abroad.

"The special envoy and her team have started the process ofcollecting information about the population affected by thedemolitions," the U.N. office in Harare said in a statement.

"The technical team is working with the United Nationscountry team, local stakeholders and civil society to design amechanism to compile as comprehensive a picture as possible."

Plans were under way for field visits which would enableTibaijuka's team to visit demolished neighborhoods and assess"the capacity of the government and the humanitarian communityto respond (to the crisis)," it added.

The statement did not say when Tibaikuja -- a special envoyof U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan - was likely to meetMugabe and government officials were not available for comment.

On Monday, Mugabe's government vowed to step up a newhousing program to benefit those left homeless, which aidagencies have pegged at over 300,000. Zimbabwe's mainopposition argues the figure is now over 1.5 million.

Western countries and organizations including Britain, theUnited States, the Commonwealth and the European Union havecriticized the operation, which has caused the deaths of atleast two children crushed in demolished houses.

On Tuesday neighboring South Africa's Anglican ArchbishopNjongonkulu Ndungane said he would lead a church andnon-governmental delegation to Zimbabwe next month to assessthe impact of the demolitions, which officials have said arenow winding down.

"The assault on property, homes and the meager sources ofincome of the poor and destitute in Harare and other majorcities has impacted the lives of over a million Zimbabweans,"Ndungane said in a statement.

Mugabe's government has defended the police blitz, sayingit is meant to root out black market trade in scarce foreigncurrency and basic food commodities -- which had thrived inshantytowns.