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Activists Urge Donors to Continue Withholding Development Aid to Zimbabwe

Activist groups say western donors should withhold development aid to Zimbabwe because of continuing human-rights violations but that they should continue humanitarian aid. This comes as the new power sharing government in Harare seeks billions of dollars in foreign aid to revitalize its economy.

The head of Human Rights Watch in South Africa, Tiseke Kasambala, says the international community should show support for the new power sharing government in Zimbabwe, but that it is not yet time for direct government-to-government assistance.

"We are calling for the international donors not to resume development aid to Zimbabwe until the ZANU-PF elements in this inclusive government end the on-going abuses and back serious human rights reforms in the country," said Tiseke Kasambala.

Kasambala says that three months after the formation of the unity government by the ZANU-PF of President Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the detention and intimidation of activists continue.

She says police continue to break up peaceful protests such as one by students recently. Farm invasions continue. And the government still has not rolled back repressive security and media laws.

Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti this week met with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, seeking $2 billion in short term aid to revitalize the economy and restore social services.

Southern African states have reportedly pledged several hundred million dollars in credits and loan guarantees. But the Harare government has yet to obtain funding from major international donors.

The International Crisis advocacy group last week issued a report saying there are signs of constructive political collaboration between ZANU-PF and the MDC. But it also said hard-line members of the security establishment are trying to cause the new government to fail.

Kasambala of Human Rights Watch said the inclusive government in Harare does need support and humanitarian aid.

"What we are saying, however, is at this moment in time with the kind of abuses that are taking place and the lack of accountability in government itself, this is not the time to start looking towards providing government-to-government assistance," said Kasambala. "However, there is still scope for the provision of significant humanitarian assistance."

Reports say that new fiscal policies, such as allowing trade in foreign currencies, have stabilized prices and brought basic goods back into stores. A five month-old cholera epidemic has eased and many schools have re-opened.

But activists say the humanitarian and economic situation remains serious, especially for the millions of unemployed and the one half of the population that depends on food aid for survival.