Human rights organizations are accusing the government of Zimbabwe of using food as a political weapon in its campaign to win the presidential runoff election in three weeks. The charges come one day after the government suspended three international aid agencies accusing them of involvement in politics. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.
The Human Rights Watch group says the Zimbabwean government is seeking to control food distributions in order to win the presidential run-off election on June 27.
The organization's Zimbabwe researcher, Tiseke Kasambala, says in addition militants of the ruling ZANU-PF party are preventing aid agencies from reaching needy people in some rural areas.
"In the past the government of Zimbabwe has used food as a political tool to force people to vote for ZANU-PF and it seems increasingly likely that these suspensions are tied in with the government's attempts to take control of food distribution in the rural areas and to use food as a political weapon," said Kasambala.
She says the suspensions are also aimed at blocking international reporting on alleged violence against supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change party.
The Zimbabwean government says the agencies were suspended because they had become involved in politics. President Robert Mugabe Tuesday told delegates to a United Nations food summit in Rome that food and funds were being channeled through aid agencies to campaign against the government. The agencies say they distribute food to needy people regardless of their political affiliation.
The MDC won a majority in parliament and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, received more votes than Mr. Mugabe in national elections in March. But Tsvangirai did not win a majority of the votes and as a result is to face Mr. Mugabe in a runoff election in three weeks.
The opposition says since the election more than 50 supporters have been killed, hundreds wounded and thousands of people displaced in attacks by government supporters.
Kasambala said the attacks were part of a campaign of intimidation.
"Thousands of people have been disenfranchised from their right to vote," she said. "The violent conditions themselves do not lend themselves to free and fair elections."
She called on the Zimbabwean government to end the violence and urged the 14-nation Southern African Development Community, SADC, to speed up deployment of its observers. SADC said it will double the number of observers, to 400, and most will be in place by next week.