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Mugabe's Party Defies July 21 Agreement

Nearly four weeks after President Robert Mugabe signed a memorandum of understanding on negotiations with his political opponents, his ZANU-PF party is accused of violating the crucial clause requiring that he lift the ban on non-governmental organizations delivering food aid. Peta Thornycroft reports that, in additon, ZANU-PF leaders continue to violate other crucial clauses of the agreement.

In June, Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche banned humanitarian agencies from distributing food because, he said, they had campaigned on behalf of the MDC ahead of the March 29 elections. The food agencies denied Goche's accusation.

The move was widely seen as a retaliation against voters who supported Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the March election in which he scored more votes than Mr Mugabe and his party won a narrow majority in parliament.

This week the World Food Program, which is the largest donor funded food importer, told VOA the organization has had no word, or even an indication, that the ban will be lifted.

The WFP works primarily through local non-governmental organizations as distribution partners. These partners were banned from doing field work, except for school feeding programs and those to assist people with HIV/AIDS.

The WFP says 250,000 people are currently being assisted, but even as early as last month that figure should have been 300,000. The local partner organizations say many children are already showing signs of malnutrition as a consequence of failed summer crops and that feeding programs should be escalated as a matter of urgency.

The WFP says about five million people, or nearly half the population of Zimbabwe, will need food aid before the next summer harvest in April, 2009.

One humanitarian organization, which asked not to be identified, said some top ZANU-PF politicians have asked the agency to defy the government ban because traditional leaders complain that many people have no food.

A worker in the Welfare Ministry in Harare said Monday there were no indications when or if the ban would be lifted.

Renson Gasela, a former MDC legislator and a respected commentator on agriculture, on Monday described the ongoing ban as "appalling." He said it was cruel and disgraceful that any government in the world should prevent food from getting to people in need.

He said the continuing food distribution ban violated the July 21 memorandum of understanding.

Political violence which soared after the MDC's election victory is continuing, although at a much reduced level.

But the party issues regular reports providing details of supporters thrown out of their homes, beaten up, kidnapped or forced to hand over possessions to ZANU-PF militia.

Several MDC supporters have died since the memorandum of understanding was signed on July 21. Some are still in the hospital recovering from the attacks on them. The agreement was meant to end all political violence.

And, in the last week, there has been a sudden upsurge of white commercial farmers being illegally evicted from their homes and land. Harare lawyer David Drury said Monday he was busy representing affected farmers. He said there was what he described as a 'last mad rush' by ZANU-PF heavyweights to seize many of the few hundred remaining white owned farms in anticipation of some kind of political settlement.

The Memorandum of Understanding also committed the signatories, to respect property rights.

Negotiations for a power sharing agreement between the MDC and ZANU-PF deadlocked in South Africa on Sunday although leaders on both sides say they are committed to keep talking.

Meanwhile, many Zimbabweans can not afford to buy the little food available as prices double every few days. The Central Statistical Office announced late Monday that inflation had now jumped to more than 11 million percent, a world record.