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AU Envoy Visit to Zimbabwe Surprises Officials

The fact-finding mission by an African Union envoy following Zimbabwe's razing of illegal housing and businesses took Zimbabwean officials by surprise. The government says it was not aware of the intended visit until the AU official was airborne and bound for Harare.

The Zimbabwean government has described the fact-finding mission by an African Union official as out of step with protocol.

Bahame Tom Nyanduga, a member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, was asked by the African Union Commission to probe the Zimbabwean government's clean-up operation targeting informal businesses and unapproved residential structures.

But a report in the government-controlled newspaper, The Sunday Mail, says Zimbabwe foreign ministry officials scrambled to meet Mr. Nyanduga at the airport on Thursday because they only learned of his arrival after he already left for Harare from Addis Ababa. The newspaper said Mr. Nyanduga was told he could not proceed with his mission before fully explaining the purpose of his visit.

However, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesperson Otto Saki who met with Mr. Nyanduga, told VOA that the AU had informed the Zimbabwean Embassy in Ethiopia of his visit before he departed.

Mr. Nyanduga's visit was also a surprise to observers because the AU had rejected calls from Britain and the United States to put pressure on Zimbabwe to stop its demolition campaign. A spokesperson for the continental body said it had many more serious problems to consider than Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, United Nations envoy Anna Tibaijuka, now in her second week in Zimbabwe, will visit Bulawayo Tuesday and more places that have fallen victim to the clean-up campaign, including Victoria Falls. Mrs. Tibaijuka was appointed Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The crackdown, which the authorities say is necessary to clean up urban areas and root out criminal activity, has been widely condemned at home and abroad. The United Nations estimates the exercise has left nearly 200,000 people homeless and has called on the government of Zimbabwe to stop destroying peoples' homes and livelihoods.

And, reports from South Africa say the leadership of Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, met with South African President Thabo Mbeki over the weekend. VOA's Johannesburg bureau reports that there was an announcement which said the meeting was at the request of the MDC and that there would be no statement following. The meeting comes as a surprise as the MDC announced it was cutting ties with the South African government.

The party blamed South Africa for endorsing the March parliamentary elections which it said were flawed, fraudulent and rigged. The MDC won forty-one of 120 contested seats.