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WFP Stops Food Distribution in Zimbabwe, Citing Intimidation, Theft by Gov't Supporters - 2002-10-18

The United Nations' World Food Program has stopped distributing food to hungry people in Zimbabwe, saying it is acting in response to intimidation and theft of food by President Robert Mugabe's supporters. This is the first time the WFP has had to close down a food program in Zimbabwe.

Kevin Farrell, World Food Program representative in Zimbabwe, said Friday distribution of food near a poverty stricken village, Insiza, in the Matabeleland province, has been stopped.

He said ruling Zanu PF activists intimidated staff of the non-governmental organization distributing WFP food and stole three metric tons of corn. Mr. Farrell said the food was then distributed in what he called an unauthorized manner.

The WFP in the past encountered administrative difficulties in implementing food distribution in parts of the country, but this is the first time any donor agency stopped feeding people in Zimbabwe because of political unrest.

The Mugabe government itself last week stopped a food distribution program by the British charity, Save the Children, in an opposition stronghold in northwestern Zimbabwe.

The United Nations estimates that 6.7 million Zimbabweans are in need of food aid.

The government's grain marketing board is the only organization allowed to sell corn in Zimbabwe. It has been repeatedly accused by many non-governmental organizations and the United Nations itself of refusing to sell grain to members of the opposition in rural areas.