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Home Demolitions Continue as UN Envoy Meets Mugabe


A U.N. special envoy in Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian impact of the government's campaign to demolish unauthorized residential structures has met with President Robert Mugabe. The meeting between the president and envoy Anna Tibaijuka took place a day after the authorities destroyed more homes, despite claims that the operation is winding down.

About 2,000 more Zimbabwean families slept in the open Tuesday when police razed their homes at Porta Farm, about 30 kilometers west of Harare.

The lawyer for the residents of the settlement, Alec Muchadehama, witnessed the demolitions and says the police bulldozed the village even after they were shown court orders stopping them from doing so. He said his clients were told by the police that they were following orders from an authority higher than the courts.

Eyewitness reports say the police torched the rubble at the settlement and loaded the homeless on trucks, presumably to be taken to a transit camp.

The demolition of the Porta Farm settlement took place after the government announced Operation Restore Order, which targeted unlicensed businesses and unauthorized residential structures is winding down.

The government says it is launching a major reconstruction program as a follow-up to the campaign, to provide houses for some of those who lost their homes and businesses.

After her meeting with President Mugabe, U.N. envoy Tibaijuka visited some areas affected by the clean-up operation. The United Nations estimates that more than 200,000 people were made homeless by the crackdown, launched on May 19.

While some of those evicted have, as directed by the government, returned to their rural homes, others are sleeping in the open. Some families are being housed in church halls and at a transit camp outside Harare.

A reporter who managed to go into the camp on Caledonia Farm painted a bleak picture of the conditions under which the more than 2,000 families are living. She spoke of a shortage of food and insufficient shelter and described the place as a refugee camp.

The crackdown, which has been widely condemned at home and abroad as a human rights violation, comes at a time Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic and political crises since independence in 1980, when President Robert Mugabe came into office. Unemployment stands at more than 80 percent, and inflation at more than 100 percent.

The authorities say the clampdown is necessary to clean up urban areas, and root out illegal traders, who hoard basic necessities for sale on the black market, and illegal dealers in foreign currency.

The government, faced with an unprecedented fuel shortage, increased the prices of petroleum products by around 300 percent on Tuesday. Gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and jet fuel will now cost more than $1 per liter at the pump. The authorities have cautioned that the price hike is unlikely to improve supply because of a serious shortage of foreign currency for imports.

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