The Zimbabwe government has refused entry to three eminent individuals
of The Elders group, including former United Nations Secretary-General
Kofi Annan - forcing them to abandon a planned humanitarian visit to
Zimbabwe. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa
bureau in Johannesburg, the group did however meet with Zimbabwe Prime
Minister Designate Morgan Tsvangirai.
Annan, along with former
U.S. president Jimmy Carter and Graça Machel, the wife of former South
African President Nelson Mandela, had hoped to travel to Zimbabwe in an
attempt to speed up humanitarian assistance to the people of that
county. Annan said the group would continue their efforts to
accomplish that goal.
"We had hoped to go to Zimbabwe this
morning, but we have had to put it off because the government has made
it clear they will not cooperate," he said. "But we agreed to continue
our work in the country to determine the situation on the ground, what
we can do to help, increase assistance to the Zimbabwean people, who
are our main concern."
The group did meet Saturday with Morgan
Tsvangirai, leader of the majority Movement for Democratic Change and
prime minister-designate of Zimbabwe who said the crisis in his country has
reached unprecedented levels.
"The crisis in Zimbabwe has
reached catastrophic levels, and we welcome any initiative to try to
highlight this problem so that it can be attended to," said Tsvangirai.
"I appreciate the very senior delegation for their interest, and I want
to thank them for taking their time to meet with us, and hopefully,
hopefully we can all make the collective effort to try to address this
Zimbabwe has had no functioning government since
early this year when parliament was adjourned for elections in March in
which the MDC won a small majority in parliament, and Mr. Tsvangirai
narrowly beat President Robert Mugabe in the presidential race. It was
not sufficient to avoid a runoff, held in June, but which he did not
contest after widespread state-sponsored violence.
in the economy has steeply accelerated, the official inflation rate was
pegged at 231 million percent in July and the health services have
virtually collapsed. Some 300 people have died in a
widespread cholera epidemic currently gripping the country. Annan
notes Zimbabwe has become a major regional problem also.
crisis is a regional problem, not just in Zimbabwe, any crisis that
creates millions of refugees in the neighborhood is regional, and ... everyone should be interested in resolving it, so we are talking
to as many stakeholders as possible before we leave the region on
Monday," he said.
Mr. Carter said that despite the Zimbabwe
government's allegations, the delegation did not intend to become
embroiled in the politics of Zimbabwe.
"Our purpose in coming
here was never to be involved in the political issues that have been so
controversial in the establishment of a new government in Zimbabwe, but
only to help with the humanitarian issues, and we'll continue to do
that," he said.
Machel, an international rights campaigner,
said that it is the Zimbabwean people who have been forgotten in the
"The process in Zimbabwe has been extremely
dominated by the political issue, and the humanitarian crisis, the
voices and faces of the people have not been very much in the map, and
that's what we wanted to do," she said. "But we want the people of
Zimbabwe to know that we care."
Meanwhile, in Lima, Peru where
he is attending an APEC summit, President Bush said in spite of the the
Zimbabwe administration's aggressive actions against its own people,
the United States will continue to honor its commitment to provide
emergency humanitarian assistance. He said the United States will also
provide other forms of assistance pending the formation of a
legitimate government that represents the will of the Zimbabwean