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US, Britain Press for UN Security Council Focus on Zimbabwe

The United States and Britain are pushing the U.N. Security Council to publicly take up the issue of Zimbabwe's demolition of urban slums. The push is encountering stiff resistance from several other Council members.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry asked the Security Council to hear a briefing from Anna Tibaijuka, the special envoy who last week issued a damning report on Zimbabwe's slum demolition campaign.

The report suggests that the demolitions might constitute a crime against humanity, and says those responsible should be prosecuted.

The British envoy's request during a closed-door Council meeting Tuesday sparked strong objection. China, Russia and Algeria voiced opposition to the briefing, and several other members stated separate concerns, leaving it unclear how the issue would be resolved.

The briefing would be a breakthrough for the United States and Britain, which have long tried unsuccessfully to place Zimbabwe on the permanent Council agenda. China has remained steadfastly against -- pointing to the Security Council's traditional non-interference in any country's internal affairs.

When asked to explain the Council's reluctance to take up the Zimbabwe issue Tuesday, an unusually outspoken U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson suggested it might be time to reform the agenda.

"That's a good question. Because this is an issue that is totally appropriate for the Security Council, and if I might stray a bit, it suggests there is room for reform in the U.N.'s consideration of these issues. What is clear from this report is the humanitarian crisis, the appropriateness of Security Council review, and frankly the massive violations of human rights that have been undertaken by the government," she said.

Ambassador Patterson said conditions are so unstable in Zimbabwe that it threatens neighboring countries.

China's Security Council objection came at a time when Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was in Beijing to sign an agreement with Chinese leader Hu Jintao. Mr. Mugabe has long had close ties with China, and Beijing is a major supplier of aid and investment to the Mugabe government.

In a related development Tuesday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric played down earlier suggestions that Secretary-General Kofi Annan might soon visit Zimbabwe.

"It's not imminent. A number of things need to happen on the ground, including the cessation of evictions, humanitarian aid needs to reach those in need and obviously, as Ms. Tibaijuka pointed out in her report, there would need to be a start of a political process, political dialogue between the government and other stakeholders in Zimbabwe. All these things would need to happen, at least to get underway in a meaningful manner before the Secretary General would go," she said.

The Tibaijuka Report criticized the Harare government in unusually strong terms, describing the demolition campaign as ill-conceived and inhumane. In a statement accompanying the report, Secretary-General Annan called the findings "profoundly distressing".

Zimbabwe denounced the report, calling it biased and exaggerated. It defended the demolitions, saying the destroyed shantytowns were hubs of criminal activity. News reports from Harare this week say authorities have resumed the campaign, destroying the remains of one of the country's biggest slums.