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US Ambassador: Zimbabwe Faces  Possible Famine - 2002-10-11

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization Friday said bureaucratic delays are preventing food from getting into Zimbabwe. Ambassador Tony Hall said Zimbabwe faces a famine in two months, unless the delays are cleared up.

"The critical time is in the next two months," Ambassador Hall said. "If by the end of December enough food hasn't arrived in this country, there is going to be major famine, and there is going to be major death."

Mr. Hall was speaking in Harare, following a three-day tour of relief projects in Zimbabwe.

He said, after visiting several parts of the country, he is now convinced the U.N. estimate that 6.7 million people are facing starvation is, if anything, an underestimate.

He said food was sitting at the borders of Zimbabwe that should already be in the country.

Though the Zimbabwean government has repeatedly denied using food as a political weapon, Ambassador Hall said he heard testimony that the government refused to sell grain to opposition supporters and in areas considered hotbeds of opposition support.

The ambassador said America was the largest donor of food to Zimbabwe and that the United States planned to monitor food distribution to ensure that food was not being used as a political tool.

South Africa's foreign minister, Dr. Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, was also in Harare Friday. She met briefly with President Robert Mugabe, and later told state television that South African media were negative about Zimbabwe, and did not paint a balanced picture of the country.

South African diplomats in Harare said the foreign minister planned to meet with other government officials to discuss land redistribution and political reconciliation in Zimbabwe. She also is scheduled to visit Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe's premier tourist resort.