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Zimbabwe Government Alleged To Block NGO Food Assistance Efforts

Zimbabwean Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo has warned councilors in the rural Mashonaland West district of Zvimba not to let non-governmental organizations distribute food in the area, telling local officials such groups intend to use food aid to destabilize the government, local and other sources said.

The sources said Chombo issued the instructions last week in a meeting with local councilors. His intervention comes as the country is grappling with food shortages and experts warn some 4 million Zimbabweans will need food aid by early-2008.

Chombo could not be reached for comment. VOA was unable to obtain confirmation from NGO managers, because officials either were not available or declined to speak about the highly sensitive issue. The Harare government requires authorization from the international down to the local level for food distribution, and has shut down food distribution programs in the past with little or no explanation.

Spokesman Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental organizations said interference with food aid has mounted as elections approach. The country is scheduled to hold local, general and presidential elections in early 2008 and critics have charged in the past that Harare uses food to exert political pressure.

Ngirande told reporter Patience Rusere that international as well as domestic humanitarian organizations face increased official restrictions.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe...