July 3, 2005

AU envoy on ‘un-procedural’ Zimbabwe mission-paper

HARARE (Reuters) - The African Union last week sent ansenior official to probe Zimbabwe's controversial demolition ofillegal shanty towns without notifying President RobertMugabe's government, the Sunday Mail reported.

In a move it said authorities had slammed as"un-procedural" the paper said Alpha Konare, chairman of theAfrican Union Commission which runs the day-to-day affairs ofthe continental body sent Bahare Tom Nyanduga to Zimbabwe onThursday.

The state-owned paper said Harare only became aware of thevisit when Nyanduga was already on his way.

"He was, however, informed that he could not proceed withhis mission before he had fully appraised the Government of thepurpose of his visit," the Sunday Mail said.

The paper quoted Nyanduga as saying he would meetgovernment ministers, rights groups and visit areas affected bythe crackdown which Mugabe says is meant to rid Zimbabwe ofsettlements that had become hives of illegal trade in scarcehard currency and food.

"Being a member of the AU Commission on Human Rights andspecial rapporteur on refugees, asylum seekers and internaldisplaced persons in Africa, I was requested to assess thedisplacement and humanitarian aspect of the clean-up exercise,"he said.

"Based on the information I would have gathered from theassessment, I will then come up with a report to be presentedto the AU chairperson."

Officials were not available for comment on Sunday.

Rights groups, who say the operation has left at least300,000 people homeless, have urged Nigerian President OlusegunObasanjo, as chairman of the AU, to put the crisis in Zimbabweon the agenda of it summit starting on Monday.

The AU had previously indicated it would not interfere inwhat it said was a member country's internal affairs.

A special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, AnnaTibaijuka has been in Zimbabwe for a week on a similarassessment mission which has seen her tour townships andsquatter camps affected by the crackdown in the capital Harareand the eastern city of Mutare.

On Friday, Tibaijuka visited a camp on the outskirts ofHarare where 4,000 people have been moved after their homeswere destroyed in a campaign Amnesty International and ActionAid say killed at least three more people last week -- inaddition to two children reported crushed to death duringdemolitions.

Police have not yet confirmed reports of three more deaths.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says wellover 1.5 million people have been displaced and that thecrackdown its meant to punish its supporters in the urbanstrongholds where it kept most of its parliamentary seats inMarch 31 parliamentary elections.

The United States and European nations raised Zimbabwe'shousing demolitions in the U.N. Security Council for the firsttime on Thursday, using a debate on extreme hunger in southernAfrica to get the issue on the agenda.