The Zimbabwean government's order to non-governmental groups to cease delivering food and other humanitarian aid and services to the country's poorest has produced shock at home and provoked outrage across the international community.

The U.S. government on Friday described as "despicable" Harare's order suspending the humanitarian operations of non-governmental organizations. U.S. officials said the government wants a monopoly on food assistance to use it as a political weapon.

President Robert Mugabe will face opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on June 27 in a presidential run-off election which has already been marred by widespread political violence that has claimed scores of lives, mostly among opposition supporters.

VOA's David Gollust reported from the U.S. Department of State.

The United Nations also condemned the move. From Geneva, VOA?s Lisa Schlein reported that UN officials said it would hamper the UN?s own aid operations.

Public Service and Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche on Thursday ordered all non-governmental providers of aid to cease all "field operations."

Earlier in the week the government ordered local and international organizations that were distributing food, among them CARE International, to halt operations.

It was unclear if the ban applied to NGOs not providing aid. But Chief Executive Officer Cephas Zinumwe of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations said all NGOs are at risk as the government has the power to act as it chooses.

However, organizations such as the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an NGO consortium, and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said they had not received the circular issued by Goche, leaving the question of its scope unresolved.

NANGO CEO Zinumwe told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the impact of the government prohibition on the population will be dire.

Harare-based independent political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya said the government's decision to block the provision of humanitarian aid was a desperate move to prevent non-governmental organizations from enlightening the Zimbabwean people.

For insight into the motivation behind Harare?s decision and its likely impact, reporter Blessing Zulu turned to senior researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa and Rev. Forbes Matonga, national director of Christian Care, a leading Zimbabwean distribution partner of the U.N. World Food Program.

Matonga said many Zimbabweans need food assistance given the repeated failure of harvests resulting in domestic production far beneath the country's needs.

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