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  • Government insists UN Council focus on Zimbabwe
    Irwin Arieff, Reuters
    July 26, 2005

    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The government challenged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to openly address Zimbabwe's bulldozing of slums, threatening a rare public clash between council members like China that back Harare and the African state's critics.

    Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry was opposed by China, Russia and Algeria when he asked, behind closed doors, for a public briefing by U.N. official Anna Tibaijuka on a report in which she accused Zimbabwe of demolishing shantytowns in a campaign that was unjustified and indifferent to human suffering.

    An undeterred Jones Parry then vowed to raise the issue again on Wednesday morning under a provision of the U.N. Charter obliging a public vote if his request was challenged.

    Jones Parry would need the support of nine of the council's 15 members to win a procedural vote on whether Tibaijuka should brief in public. He said speed was crucial as Tibaijuka planned to leave New York for her home in Nairobi in two days.

    A briefing on the government drive to flatten urban slums would mark the first time Zimbabwe has emerged as a council focus, due primarily to China's policy of opposing council intervention in other nations' internal affairs.

    A public airing would also mark a breakthrough for Britain and the United States, who have long wanted the council to zero in on Zimbabwean President Mugabe's policies, which Western critics say have thrown the country into a political and economic tailspin.

    The threat of a council slugfest surfaced while Mugabe was in Beijing to sign an economic and technical cooperation deal with Chinese leader Hu Jintao.

    Mugabe has had close ties with China since his guerrilla days against white rule in the 1970s, when only Beijing supported his movement. Since then, Mugabe has received substantial aid and investment from China.

    The United Nations, meanwhile, played down earlier word that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had accepted Mugabe's invitation to visit Zimbabwe, to see firsthand the impact of its "Operation Restore Order."


    "It is not imminent," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said of a possible Annan visit, adding that the secretary-general had accepted the invitation "in principle."

    Before the U.N. leader could come, the government would have to stop evicting people from their slum dwellings, ensure humanitarian aid was getting to those in need and launch a political dialogue aimed at healing the wounds created by the mass demolitions, Dujarric said.

    Tibaijuka, Annan's special envoy and head of U.N. Habitat, the world body's urban settlements arm, said in a strongly worded report on Friday that Zimbabwe's campaign to clean up illegal shantytowns had destroyed the homes or jobs of at least 700,000 people and affected the lives of another 2.4 million.

    "The report is quite powerful in what it says. The council deserves to be briefed on it by its author, Mrs. Tibaijuka," Jones Parry told reporters outside the council chamber.

    The United States, France, Denmark and Romania were among those supporting his request, although other members argued for a compromise such as a closed-door briefing or an informal meeting outside the council chambers, diplomats said.

    "This is an issue that is totally appropriate for the Security Council," U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson told reporters. "The situation is so unstable that it threatens neighboring countries ... It is verging on a crisis situation."

    But China, supported by Russia and Algeria, told council members not to meddle in Zimbabwe's internal affairs and argued the matter was best left to the African Union.

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