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'Elders' Delegation to Investigate Zimbabwe Crisis


Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and human rights campaigner Graca Machel are planning to visit Zimbabwe Saturday, despite a statement by government that they are not welcome. Peta Thornycroft reports it is not clear whether Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is going to meet them.

The delegation, which is part of an international group known as The Elders, want to get a first hand look at the cholera crisis that has emerged in Zimbabwe. The United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, said Thursday that more than 300 people had died of the disease.

Most of the deaths have taken place in Harare and in the southern border town Beit Bridge. The outbreak is believed to have been caused by water infected by sewage, as many towns' water and sewage systems have collapsed.

The Zimbabwe government says the visit is a "partisan mission by a group of people with partisan interests," and was a "rescue mission" for prime minister designate Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change. Mr. Tsvangirai's party stripped Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF of its parliamentary majority in March elections. A cartoon in Friday's state-controlled Herald newspaper accuses Annan of endorsing the United States' invasion of Iraq.

Graca Machel, a campaigner for children's rights and the wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela also taking part in the two-day visit. She would normally be welcome in Zimbabwe. However Mr. Mugabe has previously made it clear he does not want to meet with Annan.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who has met Mr. Mugabe before, is seen as an enemy by many in ZANU-PF.

The Elders are expected to meet with prime minister designate Morgan Tsvangirai in South Africa before traveling to Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai have been in negotiations for more than two months, in an unsuccessful bid to agree on the composition of a government of national unity.

When the power sharing agreement between Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai was signed on September 15, South African finance minister Trevor Manuel said he would make $30 million available to kick-start Zimbabwe's economy when a unity government was in place.

Now South African government spokesman Themba Maseko said that the money was still subject to that provision , and that the delay in agreeing on a unity government means that the money will only be available for the next summer season in October 2009.

A new round of negotiations, mediated by regional facilitator, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, is due to begin Monday.

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