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US Backs UN Call for End to Zimbabwe Demolitions

The United States Monday endorsed the call by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for an immediate end to the government campaign of slum demolitions in Zimbabwe. A U.N. report issued last Friday said Zimbabwean officials should be held accountable for the widely-condemned operation.

The Bush administration has been sharply critical of the slum-clearance operation since it began in May, and it is throwing its support behind the United Nations effort to end the demolitions and mobilize aid for those displaced.

A report by a special U.N. envoy, Tanzanian economist Anna Tibaijuka, released last Friday said the policy by the Harare government had left 700,000 people homeless and created a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions.

At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said those evicted were already the poorest of Zimbabwe's poor, and that many of them now have no access to shelter, food and health care.

He said the United States endorses U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement that the campaign must stop and that the officials behind the policy be held to account for it. "The government of Zimbabwe should end the demolitions immediately and work with the international community on relief and reconstruction operations, and the architects of the housing demolitions should be held accountable for their actions. And there should be dialogue between the government of Zimbabwe, domestic groups, and the international community to resolve Zimbabwe's pressing social, economic and political problems."

The government of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe launched the demolition campaign without warning May 19th, saying it was ridding the capital, Harare, and other cities of shanty-towns that have been sources of crime, black-marketing and other forms of urban blight.

The Harare government has condemned the report of the U.N. envoy, Ms. Tibaijuka, as judgmental and with an in-built bias against the operation.

The United States has been a persistent critic of Mr. Mugabe's administration and recently described the slum-clearance effort as obscene.

Spokesman McCormack said the United States has committed nearly $2 million for the relief of evicted Zimbabweans through the International Organization for Migration.

In his statement last Friday, Secretary-General Annan said the United Nations will urgently seek agreement with the Harare government to mobilize aid for those displaced on a scale needed to avert further suffering.

Ms. Tibaijuka said hundreds of millions of dollars might be required.

In another development, the State Department gave a cautious welcome to reports that South Africa might be preparing to offer Zimbabwe a $1-billion credit line to help it deal with debt arrears to the International Monetary Fund and other creditors.

Spokesman McCormack said South Africa obviously has a real stake in the restoration of political and economic normalcy in Zimbabwe, and that a loan could be a positive development, if it results in concrete reforms in the neighboring state.

U.S. officials have in the past faulted South Africa for being too timid in pressing the Mugabe government to end political repression and other practices widely condemned abroad.