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UN Secretary-General to Send Envoy to Harare

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed Anna Kagumulo Tibaijuka, the executive director of UN-HABITAT as his special envoy for human settlement issues in Zimbabwe.

A United Nations statement says Anna Kagumulo Tibaijuka will shortly be visiting Zimbabwe to study the scope of the ongoing evictions of informal traders and those living in unapproved structures and the humanitarian impact it has had. U.N. officials estimate that the crackdown has made some 200,000 homeless.

The statement says President Robert Mugabe has agreed to let Mrs. Tibaijuka visit the country. A report in a state-controlled newspaper The Herald says her visit will be followed by a U.N. technical team. It also says Mr. Mugabe had told the U.N. secretary general the organization would be "welcome to assist if it thinks it could."

The government calls the campaign to clear out shanties Operation Restore Order or Operation Murambatsvina - Drive out the Filth in Shona, but the public refers to it as the Tsunami. The operation is now in its fifth week, and shows no sign of slowing down.

After closing down informal manufacturers, stopping vendors from operating in urban centers and demolishing what the government calls illegal homes in low-income areas, the authorities are now turning their attention to the more affluent residential areas.

In addition to unapproved structures, the authorities say they are targeting residential properties that have been turned into offices. Also, some office blocks in downtown Harare have been closed. The Herald newspaper quotes an official for the city of Harare as saying they were shut down because they were overcrowded and unhygienic.

The Herald also reports that in their zeal, the police oversaw the demolition of some legal outside toilets in a Harare suburb.

It says the demolitions could have been a "genuine mistake."

The crackdown comes as Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic and political crises since independence in 1980, when Mr. Mugabe came into office. Unemployment stands at more than 80 percent, and inflation at more than 100 percent.

The government claims the clampdown is necessary to clean up urban areas. It also wants to root out illegal traders, who officials accuse of hoarding basic necessities, which are in short supply, for sale on the black market, and illegal currency traders.

On Monday, the United States called Zimbabwe's action against the shanty dwellers as a tragic crime.