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Harare Frustrates UN Bid To Send Special Envoy On Deepening Crisis

Yet another impasse is developing in the Zimbabwe crisis, this time between President Robert Mugabe and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who told journalists Harare has indicated "the timing is not right" for Ban to dispatch a special envoy to the country to assess conditions including a runaway cholera epidemic.

In a news conference at the U.N. on Wednesday, Ban told reporters he had spoken at length with Mr. Mugabe last month at a summit in Doha, Qatar, during which Mr. Mugabe said he would receive Assistant Secretary-General Haile Menkerios in Harare.

Ban said he told Mr. Mugabe at that time that the country “stands on the brink of economic, social and political collapse” and that “things needed to change, urgently, and that I and the United Nations stand ready to help. The president agreed to receive my envoy, Haile Menkerios. Now we are told that the timing is not right."

In the past month the country has been engulfed by a cholera epidemic which experts blame on the breakdown in public water and sanitation systems that has deprived the population of reliable, clean water and tainted alternative sources with deadly bacteria. Harare's largest state hospitals remain closed following a walkout by health sector workers.

The World Health Organization said the cholera epidemic has claimed 1,111 lives, a surge of 133 in the past two days. Some 20,581 cases of the disease have been reported.

For perspective on this standoff between the Harare government and the U.N., reporter Ntungamili Nkomo spoke with political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya, who said Harare does not want a top-level U.N. official to be on the spot to document rights violations.

ZANU-PF information committee member Chris Mutsvangwa, a former ambassador to China, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Menkerios's visit is premature as Harare is in the process of forming a government of national unity.

Mutsvangwa said Mr. Mugabe has written to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, founder of the Movement for Democratic Change and prime minister-designate in the government that was proposed in a Sept. 15 power-sharing pact, inviting him to take up his office.

Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe said his boss has received no letter of invitation to assume the functions of prime minister. Rival MDC formation leader Arthur Mutambara and other officials in his wing of the party said they had no knowledge of an invitation.

Meanwhile, the political environment has become toxic amidst continuing abductions of MDC and civic activists - three more Tsvangirai formation members were seized Wednesday.

On Thursday the Tsvangirai MDC formation moved a motion in parliament to censure the government for what it is calling a political crackdown, and over the government’s claims that MDC militants are receiving military training in Botswana – a charge the MDC and Botswana have dismissed along with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, currently the chairman of the Southern African Development Community, which is investigating the charges.

The alleged shooting of Air Force chief Perence Shiri last Saturday boosted tensions forcing MDC activists and even members of parliament to go to ground.

Chief whip Innocent Gonese of the Tsvangirai MDC formation said the government is making false accusations to prepare the ground for declaring a state of emergency.

More news from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...