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Australia Breaks Rank With US, Europe on Assistance to Zimbabwe

The Australian government on Wednesday broke ranks with other Western nations on aid to the new government in Zimbabwe, saying it will expand its assistance to beyond humanitarian assistance to help the national unity government in Harare serve the population.

Canberra said it would provide A$10 million - about US$6.5 million - to help the United Nations Children's Fund provide water treatment chemicals to cities and towns across the country to help check a persistent cholera epidemic. The other A$5 million will be channeled through the British Department for International Development to expand financial incentives to health workers who went on strike in late 2008 and recently started trickling back to work.

Though the new assistance addresses humanitarian issues - the cholera epidemic, national health care - a statement issued in the name of Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith made clear that Canberra was making a clear shift in policy towards Harare.

A statement posted on the Web site of Australia's Agency for International Development noted that Canberra's aid to Harare to date "has been limited to humanitarian aid."

But, it continued, "The Government plans to expand Australian assistance to support efforts by Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his ministers to bring sustainable and long-term improvements to the lives of Zimbabweans."

The Australian government "recognizes there are some risks to this approach. We are under no illusions about the fragility of the political situation in Zimbabwe," it said.

The United States has said it will restrict assistance to meeting humanitarian needs, and will not provide development assistance, until there is clear evidence the Harare government has reformed on human rights, the rule of law, economic policy, and other issues.

Europe and Britain in particular have adopted a similar position.

Zimbabwean Education Minister David Coltart told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he is pleased Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who he met late last year, is following through on his promise to assist the unity government in Harare.

In a related development, Chairman Kudzanai chimedza of the Hospital Doctors Association said his members will go back on strike Thursday as they have yet to receive hard currency allowances that were to be paid by UNICEF to get key health staff back to work.

Dr. Chimedza told reporter Marvellous Mhlanga-Nyahuye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his association will reopen talks with the government, having lost faith in donors.

VOA was unable to immediately obtain comment from UNICEF on the complaint.

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