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UN Chief Calls Report on Zimbabwe Crackdown 'Profoundly Distressing'


A United Nations report condemns Zimbabwe's urban demolition campaign, saying it is causing a grave humanitarian crisis. The report estimates some 700,000 people in Zimbabwe have lost their homes and businesses since the government began bulldozing so-called illegal structures - saying they had become hubs of criminal activity.

From U.N. headquarters, Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the destruction of urban slums as a "catastrophic injustice" against Zimbabwe's poorest citizens.

The 100-page report released Friday criticizes Zimbabwe's government in unusually harsh terms. It recommends that those who orchestrated the slum demolitions should be prosecuted, but the authors stop short of calling the demolitions a crime against humanity, saying such a case might be hard to sustain.

United Nations Special envoy Anna Tibaijuka, tours Caledonia Farm earlier this month
The main author is Tanzanian Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of the Nairobi-based U.N. Habitat. In the report, she describes the demolition campaign as ill-conceived and inhumane.

But under questioning from reporters Friday, she pointedly declined to place the blame on Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe. "I am myself convinced that those people who orchestrated this catastrophe have to be brought to account, and the government of Zimbabwe have to be encouraged to find the courage and put things right," she said.

"There was no evidence on the ground that this was a planned program by the whole government of Zimbabwe. It looked like it was a few people who had advised the operation, and I think they should be brought to account."

Ms. Tibaijuka gave the report to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to Zimbabwe authorities earlier in the week for comment.

In a statement accompanying the report, Mr. Annan called the conclusions "profoundly distressing." He called on Zimbabwean authorities to stop forced evictions and demolitions immediately, calling them a "catastrophic injustice" carried out with "disquieting indifference to human suffering."

Ms. Tibaijuka, who wrote the report after a two-week fact-finding mission in Zimbabwe, said her job was not to assess blame. That, she said, should be left to others.

"I was not really looking into apportioning blame," she said. "In terms of collective responsibility, of course, the government of Zimbabwe is collectively responsible for what has happened. But in the absence of a coherent well-thought-out plan, it was also clear that a group of people definitely advising the high offices were behind this operation, and it is my view that it is up to the secretary-general to pursue this issue further with President Mugabe."

Security Council diplomats Thursday said there is no immediate plan to place Zimbabwe on the Council's agenda, but several, including British Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry, said the Tibaijuka report deserves the Council's attention. "A report of this weight, prepared for the secretary-general of the United Nations, deserves to be brought to the attention of the Council, and the Council will have to take note of its findings," said the ambassador.

African members of the Security Council, as well as Russia and China, have been reluctant to draw attention to the Zimbabwe crisis, calling it an internal issue. But several western diplomats say Ms. Tibaijuka may be asked to address the Council on her findings, possibly next week.

More stories from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe

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