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Southern African Ministers Meet on Zimbabwe Recovery

Southern African ministers Thursday opened a meeting in Cape Town, South Africa aimed at drafting a plan to help Zimbabwe's economic recovery. The recently installed unity government reportedly has requested $2 billion in aid for this year from the regional group.

South Africa's Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma opened the ministerial meeting of the Southern African Development Community by welcoming the creation of the new government in Zimbabwe. She said it paved the way for national reconciliation, economic recovery and reconstruction.

"As SADC, it is our responsibility together with the international community to accompany the Zimbabwe people as they endeavor to address their economic challenges as well as the humanitarian problems," she said.

She called on western governments to lift sanctions which were imposed on Zimbabwe because of authoritarianism and human rights abuses.

South Africa's Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told national radio that Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had proposed a $2 billion SADC recovery package. He said about $1 billion would go to stimulate the economy and trade and $1 billion would aim to revive health, education and public services.

Zimbabwe's economy has declined by 40 percent in the past 10 years. The unemployment rate is 80 percent. And there are shortages of basic goods.

In addition, humanitarian groups are struggling to control a cholera epidemic that has infected more than 80,000 people and killed 3,800.

The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, ended a five-day visit to Zimbabwe Thursday with a graphic assessment of the humanitarian situation there.

"Despite tremendous efforts to contain one of the world's worst cholera outbreaks in recent times major challenges remain," she said. "There are areas where results of our concerted efforts can be seen in a declining number of new infections, but there are many places which have not been reached with the required services and where cholera continues to spread."

She said in order to prevent the spread of cholera and other diseases a major overhaul was needed of health, water and sanitation systems.

The U.N. official added that Zimbabwe's economic crisis was causing increasing hunger around the country.

"The food security situation usually improves in March and April after which the need for food aid generally declines," said Bragg. "But we continue to see serious challenges. A growing number of households are reducing the number of meals they have per day. This indicates the people's coping mechanisms are stretched."

Bragg added that Zimbabwe's schools, which have been mostly closed for the past year, also needed considerable aid in order to re-open.

The U.N. visit came two weeks after the inauguration of Zimbabwe's unity government which brought long-time opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai into government as prime minister with President Robert Mugabe remaining as head of state.

Mr. Tsvangirai Wednesday praised several ministries for paying workers. Many of them had been striking over low or unpaid salaries.

But he said Mr. Mugabe had appointed numerous senior officials and diplomats without consulting him, which violated the accord that created the unity government.

And Mr. Tsvangirai also criticized the president's allies for blocking the release of several dozen political prisoners, saying such violations were hindering reforms that were so desperately needed.

Mr. Mugabe in an interview with the government-owned Herald newspaper Thursday indicated such appointments were legal because they had been made before the launch of the new government. He also said the current government was an interim arrangement that could lead to a new constitution and elections within two years.