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Annan Ends Mediation with Zimbabwe


U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says he has accepted Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's choice of a new mediator to help the country out of its economic and political crisis. Franz Wild, reporting from VOA's West Africa bureau in Abidjan, reports the U.N. chief met with Mr. Mugabe on the sidelines of an African Union summit.

President Mugabe informed Mr. Annan that former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa would oversee all negotiations from now on.

After meeting with Mr. Mugabe at the end of the African Union summit in The Gambia on Sunday, Kofi Annan said he accepted Mr. Mugabe's choice of mediator, and would not interfere with any negotiations.

"We both agreed he should be given both the time and space to do his work," he said. "I told President Mugabe that I am committed to helping Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe, and would support the work of the mediator."

Mr. Mugabe had previously invited Mr. Annan to Zimbabwe to see the results of a slum clearance operation, which U.N. officials had condemned in a report. Hundreds-of-thousands of people were made homeless by the operation, which the Zimbabwean government said was necessary to clear out illegal businesses and dwellings.

Mr. Mugabe has since withdrawn the invitation to Mr. Annan, following reports Mr. Annan may have been considering negotiating Mr. Mugabe's resignation in exchange for the desired aid.

Mr. Mkapa, the former Tanzanian president, previously mediated negotiations between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom to end British sanctions on Zimbabwe.

However, some Zimbabwean civil society activists have expressed disappointment that Mr. Annan will no longer be directly involved.

Zimbabwean civil society leader Reginald Machamba Hove told VOA he was not sure about Mr. Mkapa's credentials.

"It is a bit of a disappointment, because we are largely unaware of what sort of initiatives former President Mkapa is engaged in," he said.

Hove says he believes that this means that negotiations will slow down as a result.

"Unfortunately, it means they are delaying the resolution of this crisis," he said. "First of all, there is a delay by the authorities that there is a genuine crisis that requires external assistance. Naturally, the follow-up to that is that there will be a delay in resolving this crisis until it is too late."

Zimbabwean inflation rose above a thousand percent earlier this year, and life expectancy is the lowest in the world.