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US Envoy Says Zimbabwe is Interfering with Aid Efforts

Zimbabwe's security forces on Saturday barred a senior U.S. envoy from entering a camp of people whose homes were recently demolished by the government. The envoy, ending a three-day visit to Zimbabwe, expressed grave concern about the country's food crisis, and criticized bureaucratic hurdles preventing food aid from being distributed.

About 2,000 people are living in a makeshift camp, called Hopely Farm, on the eastern edge of Harare.

They were forced onto army trucks and dropped there three weeks ago, when security forces said they could not remain near the rubble of their Harare homes, which were demolished during a government campaign, called Operation Restore Order.

Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations food agencies in Rome, expressed frustration at being barred from visiting the camp.

"This morning, my delegation tried to see some people who were displaced by Operation Restore Order and are now living at Hopely Farm, just outside Harare," he said. "Hopely, which is being run by the military was off access for the delegation. We were told that we did not have the proper paper work. I was told in a hushed tone that the government doesn't want me to see this place, because old people are dying. We can't address the suffering of these people, if we cant see them and assess their needs."

The United Nations said in a report last month that the demolition of people's houses in urban areas has left at least 700,000 people homeless. Tens of thousands of street sellers were put out of business during the campaign, which the government said was necessary to clean up urban areas and reduce crime.

Mr. Hall told a news conference in Harare that the rising cost of living, lack of fuel and poor government policies, as well as drought, combined to present a worrying scenario for Zimbabwe's poor.

He said he doesn't think the country will have enough food this year, and urged the government to remove bureaucratic hurdles, so that non-governmental organizations, or NGO's, can deliver aid to those in need.

"I was told that relief for needy people is being held up by bureaucratic paperwork," he said. "U.S. NGO's have 10,000 metric tons of food aid in [the South African port of] Durban bottled up waiting for import licenses. I have been told by an NGO that 15,000 tons of aid is inside Zimbabwe, but permission to distribute has not been granted. It is a very, very very difficult place to work in."

Mr. Hall pledged $51.8 million for an emergency feeding program for southern African countries.

World Food Program regional director Mike Sackett said Saturday an appeal had gone out for 300,000 tons of food aid for southern Africa, and that 40 percent of it was earmarked for Zimbabwe.

He said he expected a memorandum of understanding would be signed shortly by the Zimbabwe government to allow WFP to resume food distribution ahead of the next harvest in April 2006.

WFP, USAID and their distributing partners were told by the government last year to stop feeding all but targeted groups, mostly those living with HIV/AIDS, because Zimbabwe had grown a record maize crop.

When the crop was harvested it was found to be one of the smallest ever as seed and fertilizer from the government arrived too late for many farmers, while drought affected many areas.

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