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UN Envoy Takes Issue with Zimbabwe Clean-Up Operation


A United Nations special envoy in Zimbabwe has criticized the forced relocation to rural areas of people evicted during the government's campaign to demolish unapproved business and residential structures.

Anna Tibaijuka (left) United Nations special envoy tours some of the small to medium businesses in Harare
Anna Tibaijuka, the U.N.'s Special Envoy for Human Settlement issues in Zimbabwe, says destroying peoples' homes to force them to go back to rural areas is not the way to handle the country's housing problem.

Mrs. Tibaijuka, speaking Wednesday at a meeting in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, was responding to Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi who has said most of the displaced have to return to their rural homes, as not enough new housing would be built.

Mrs. Tibaijuka told Zimbabwe government officials that rural to urban migration is not unique to Zimbabwe, noting that it happens even in wealthy countries, such as the United States and Japan. She says the migrants come to cities not because they want to, but because they are trying to make a living. She told the officials that she herself was born in rural Tanzania, but now works in the capital, Dar es Salaam.

Mrs. Tibaijuka asked the officials to stop calling the demolished homes illegal structures or squatter camps, as they were special to those who lived there.

Some Zimbabweans are describing the government's campaign to clear out the illegal structures, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, as "the tsunami." Mrs. Tibaijuka, as she toured the areas, was visibly upset when people told her their homes were destroyed earlier this week. The government has said the crackdown, which it calls Operation Restore Order, was winding down. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has defended the campaign as necessary to stamp out urban squalor and illegal activity including hoarding, black marketeering and illicit foreign currency dealings.

The demolitions continue to draw other criticism both in and out of Zimbabwe. Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, of Cape Town, South Africa, called the campaign an assault on property, homes and the meager sources of income of the poor and destitute . The archbishop says he will lead a delegation of South African church leaders and non-governmental organization representatives on a two day visit to Zimbabwe this weekend. The tour, he says, is meant to show solidarity with people affected by the crackdown and to gain an informed view of the crisis in the country.

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