President Robert Mugabe has withdrawn his invitation to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to visit Zimbabwe. U.N. diplomats say Mr. Mugabe has done this sort of thing before.
President Mugabe invited the U.N. secretary-general to Harare last July, following the release of a U.N. report critical of his nationwide campaign of bulldozing tens of thousands of homes, many of them legally built, in urban areas.
But shortly before he left on his overseas trip last week, Mr. Mugabe said he would meet the U.N. secretary-general in New York, rather than at home in Harare.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says Mr. Mugabe's invitation was never meant to be genuine. Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of the MDC, said the invitation was what he described as "a ploy to deflect pressure at the time." Mr. Ncube says the Zimbabwe leader had done the same thing to several U.N. organizations.
A senior U.N. diplomat told VOA on condition of anonymity the United Nations, following the July invitation, decided to send a senior official to Harare to lay the groundwork for the visit. He said Ibrahim Gambari, undersecretary-general for political affairs, was to travel to Zimbabwe to assess whether the time was right for Mr. Annan's visit.
A U.N. report issued last June condemned Mr. Mugabe's nationwide campaign, called Operation Drive out the Filth," under which tens of thousands of homes, many of them legally constructed, were torn down.
The report said the campaign "was carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering." The U.N. secretary-general said he found the report "profoundly distressing... a catastrophic injustice."
Mr. Mugabe fired back at the United Nations, saying his program was meant to clean up urban centers and provide decent houses.
Several government ministers later acknowledged the government's rebuilding program never got off the ground for lack of construction material.
The senior U.N. diplomat told VOA this was not the first time Mr. Mugabe has been playing diplomatic games with the United Nations. He said last March, for example, the president asked for U.N. assistance to run the March general election, but cancelled the invitation once he was briefed on how the United Nations would run the poll.
President Mugabe had also ordered U.N. crop assessors out of the country, just before he announced a bumper corn crop that proved hugely inaccurate. He also asked the U.N. food aid agency to stop distributing emergency food.
Mr. Annan's aides say he plans to meet Mr. Mugabe in New York during the meeting of the General Assembly.