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Amnesty Concerned Over Zimbabwe's Distribution of Food Aid - 2004-05-15

The human rights group Amnesty International has expressed grave concern that Zimbabwe could end distribution of international food aid.

Officials at Amnesty International's London headquarters warn that millions of Zimbabweans may well need food in the coming months, despite government claims of a bumper harvest.

The government of President Robert Mugabe has told international donors that no food will be needed this year. On May 7, Zimbabwe blocked a U.N. team from making an independent assessment of the current harvest. That has raised alarms among international donors that Zimbabwe is hiding the true size of the 2004 harvest.

One of Amnesty International's Africa researchers, Audrey Gaughran, told VOA her group also fears the government will be manipulating food distribution ahead of elections planned for March of next year.

"Over the past couple of years in particular, there have been numerous reports of political manipulation of food, that state-controlled grain has been used by officials and supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF. Grain has been given favorably to supporters of the ruling party. In some cases ruling party cards have been apparently demanded before grain will be given out, this is subsidized grain controlled by the Grain Marketing Board, and that those who are perceived to be supporters of the political opposition have been denied access to this grain," she said.

Ms. Gaughran says Zimbabwe must recognize its obligation to make sure all of its people are fed.

"We are appealing to the government of Zimbabwe to respect the right of all Zimbabweans to food. I mean the right to food is a fundamental human right upon which other rights can be very dependent, including the right to life," she said.

She said Amnesty International wants Zimbabwe to allow the U-N crop inspectors into the country. Also, she says, government grain stocks should be independently verified and the distribution supervised to eliminate political manipulation.