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UN Envoy Ends Probe of Zimbabwean Clean-Up Operation

Anna Tibaijuka (l) talks to Getrude Murande (r) who had her home destroyed at Porta Farm
A United Nations' special envoy has wrapped up a tour of Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian impact of the government's controversial crackdown on informal businesses and unapproved residential structures. Anna Tibaijuka has acknowledged the country needs help.

In her final statement before leaving Zimbabwe, Anna Tibaijuka, the U.N. special envoy on human settlement issues in Zimbabwe, announced the immediate appointment of a UN-HABITAT program manager.

She said the appointee is an urban planning and management expert who works with central government, local authorities and other stakeholders to help with the provision of adequate shelter for all.

Mrs. Tibaijuka said UN-HABITAT, the agency she heads, had not stationed a program manager in Zimbabwe in the past, as statistics had suggested that urbanization was not yet a critical issue in the country.

During her nearly two week stay in Zimbabwe, Mrs. Tibaijuka went to several areas of the country where she assessed the consequences of the government crackdown on illegal homes, which has left tens of thousands of people homeless.

Mrs. Tibaijuka met with the displaced, government and opposition officials, church leaders and civic groups. She has also toured places where the government has launched housing developments, which will benefit some of the displaced. The government is urging those who will not benefit to go back to their rural homes.

In one of her meetings, Mrs. Tibaijuka told government officials that reversing rural to urban migration is not the way to deal with Zimbabwe's housing problem. She said people all over the world, even in developed countries, move from rural to urban areas in search of a better life.

While Mrs. Tibaijuka has successfully accomplished her mission, African Union envoy Bahame Tom Nyanduga left Harare empty-handed, after the government accused the African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights of trying to "ambush" Zimbabwe by sending him to Harare, allegedly without following proper channels. The commission has in the past issued reports not complimentary of Harare's human rights record.

The forced evictions continue to draw criticism both inside and outside Zimbabwe. The United Nations says some 200,000 poor Zimbabweans have been affected, and has appealed to the government to stop the exercise.

The government defends the seven-week crackdown, which it calls Operation Restore Order, saying it is necessary to stamp out urban squalor and illegal activities, including hoarding, black-marketeering and illicit foreign currency dealings.