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UN Appeals to Zimbabwe Government to Halt Demolitions

The United Nations resident co-coordinator in Zimbabwe has appealed to the Zimbabwean government to stop the demolition of unapproved residential structures and business premises.

U.N. Resident Coordinator Agostinho Zacarias says he is concerned by reports that demolitions are still taking place, despite government assurances that they had stopped.

"The U.N. country team welcomes the statement by the foreign minister that the Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order has now been concluded," Zacarias says. "But we are still getting reports that, for instance, in Chipinge area, demolitions have continued, and we are very concerned with that. We are still checking that information, but if it is true we call on the government to stop the demolitions."

A U.N. special envoy's report, issued last week, was critical of the demolition campaign, and recommended that the Zimbabwe government stop destroying what it says are illegal business and other structures. U.N. officials say tens-of-thousands of people have been left homeless as a result.

Mr. Zacarias said it is important for the evictions to stop to enable the United Nations to mobilize humanitarian assistance, as it would be difficult to assist what he called "a moving target," referring to those who have been displaced.

He also said he was aware of reports that people were being moved from Porta Farm near Harare. He said he had been told by the authorities that the government had won a court case to build a sewerage on the site where an informal settlement, demolished in June, used to be.

Mr. Zacarias said, contrary to media reports that the government had rejected the U.N. report, he understood that the Zimbabwean authorities had expressed reservations about it. He defended the report, which the government says is biased.

Mr. Zacaria said the U.N. envoy who drafted the report after a two-week fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe and the U.N. team based in the country tried to be as objective as possible, and the report reflected the reality. He said the Zimbabwean government is already heeding some of the recommendations in the report.

"I think there is an admission that there was a mistake moving people from Hatcliffe to Caledonia Farm, and that's why the government is reversing its decision, moving people from Hatcliffe to Caledonia Farm; put them back where they were," Zacarias says. "What we are insisting, we are insisting, and we have received assurances by the government that the people who are provided with (residential) stands will not be moved again from the places where they are going now."

Mr. Zacarias said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had expressed a willingness to come to Zimbabwe, but no details have been finalized yet. According to the government-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, Mr. Annan was invited to come to Zimbabwe to see the situation first hand by President Robert Mugabe.

The Zimbabwe government launched the demolition blitz two months ago, saying it wanted to clean up its urban areas and deal with criminal activities. The U.N. envoys report says some 700-thousand Zimbabweans were directly affected by the exercise, which targeted unapproved residential structures and businesses.