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US Denounces Zimbabwean Move Against Aid Groups

The United States Friday condemned as "despicable" the Zimbabwean government's decision to suspend the work of non-governmental aid groups. U.S. officials say the Robert Mugabe government wants to be the sole distributor of food aid in order to use it as a political weapon. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department is condemning the Zimbabwean government's aid decision as a "despicable act" and a "vicious attempt to use food as a political weapon," and it says U.S. officials are considering how to bring new pressure on Harare authorities.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said the aim of the aid cutoff apparently is to make the Mugabe government the sole distributor of food aid, as the country's critical presidential runoff election approaches.

President Mugabe, the country's leader since independence, faces Morgan Tsvangerai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the June 27 vote.

In a video hookup with Washington-based reporters, U.S. Ambassador in Harare James McGee said MDC supporters seeking government food aid are being forced to give up their national identity cards and are thus being illegally deprived their right to vote.

"It's absolutely illegal," he said. "It's contrary to all the agreements that Zimbabwe has signed regionally with SADC, the African Union, and you're absolutely correct it goes against international law. But I think that we're dealing with a desperate regime here that would do anything to stay in power."

The U.S. envoy said there appeared to be enough food aid stockpiled in Zimbabwe to take care of needs until the election, but warned of "massive, massive starvation" later as supplies run out.

Ambassador McGee said he believes despite persistent government acts of interference, including the harassment this week of U.S. and British diplomats trying to monitor election conditions, the runoff should go forward.

To put off the vote, he said, would hand the government an undeserved victory. But he said the southern African regional grouping SADC, the African Union and others must provide a strong monitoring presence.

He also said he and other foreign diplomats are determined to stay at their posts and try to combat election abuses, in part out of concern for the safety of opposition leader Tsvangirai, who has been under frequent detention and beaten at least once since becoming party leader:

"Given the excesses of the government here, we are not sure what they will do," he added. "Mr. Tsvangerai and his security team are taking very strong precautions. But as I think you mentioned, he has been detained twice already this week. One of the things we and the diplomatic community want to assure the entire world is that we're keeping a light on the activities of the government here in Zimbabwe. And hopefully that will deter them from doing anything that might be detrimental to Mr. Tsvangirai."

Asked about the Mugabe's government's resistance to electoral change, the U.S. envoy said there are within it a number of what he termed "greedy people who want to remain in power at all costs."

He also said there are people with, as he put it, "exceptionally bloody hands" who are very concerned about the potential of justice or retribution if a new government comes to power.