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Zimbabwean Government Unhappy With UN Model Shelter

Zimbabwe's minister of local government has expressed unhappiness with the model of a shelter put up by the United Nations. The shelter was a prototype for thousands of shelters for those made homeless in the campaign of home demolitions the government launched earlier this year.

The government minister, Ignatius Chombo, described the brick and asbestos structure as sub-standard and a mockery of Africans. The state controlled daily newspaper The Herald quoted Mr. Chombo as saying the government wanted permanent structures for its people.

Rather than follow building specifications set up by the government, Mr. Chombo said the U.N. went ahead and built sub-standard structures that were below human dignity.

The minister, appearing on state television, said the money used for the asbestos wall in the homes should have been used to buy bricks.

The government anger over the housing is the latest issue in the worsening relationship between the Zimbabwean government and the United Nations.

The government broadcasting service has accused the world body of stirring controversy by offering the structures as a solution to the thousands made homeless by the government's demolition campaign.

Zimbabwean authorities say the blitz was meant to rid urban areas of people involved in criminal activities, black marketing of scarce basic commodities, and illegal dealing in foreign currency.

The government reacted angrily when U.N. special envoy Anna Tibaijuka condemned the demolitions, which she said directly affected hundreds of thousands of poor Zimbabweans. When, on a later visit, U.N. emergency relief co-coordinator Jan Egeland upheld Mrs. Tibaijuka's report, President Robert Mugabe described the Norwegian diplomat as a liar who does not speak proper English.

The United Nations Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, Agostinho Zacarias, said the homes were not imposed on the government but were built after negotiations between the U.N. and the government of Zimbabwe. At a news conference Wednesday, he expressed surprise that the structures were being described as UN buildings.

"It should more correctly have been called a government of Zimbabwe-U.N. house," he said. "Secondly the model very closely reflects the technical specifications contained in the letter addressed to me on the 14th of November by the government of Zimbabwe."

Mr. Zacarias said he hoped common ground could be found with the government because six months after the forced evictions and with the onset of the rains, there are families still out in the open or living under flimsy shelter.

The government launched a building operation in the wake of the evictions but has failed to meet its own target of building thousands of homes by the end of the year.