The United States Friday renewed its call for an end to the Zimbabwean government's widely criticized urban slum clearance campaign. The comments followed reports of at least three deaths in the demolition of a shanty-town near the capital, Harare, Thursday.

The United States has been a persistent critic of the government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

But the slum clearance project, ostensibly aimed at reducing crime in urban areas, has drawn some of the sharpest U.S. criticism to date, with one official recently calling the demolition campaign obscene.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack opened Friday's news briefing with a volunteered statement reiterating a call for an immediate end to the demolitions, which the United Nations estimates have left $200,000 people homeless.

Mr. McCormack said Zimbabwe's problems cannot be remedied by what the State Department has termed a heavy-handed crackdown on the country's poor. "The government of Zimbabwe must respect the rule of law and address the country's serious governance problems if it wants to reverse the sad course that that country is currently on," he said.

Mr. McCormack said the issue is a matter of high-level attention in the Bush administration, and has been raised in U.S. contacts with the United Nations, the African Union, South Africa and other concerned parties.

The spokesman said it was also discussed at last week's London preparatory conference for the upcoming G-8 summit meeting, where British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said African leaders have a high responsibility to not turn a blind eye to what is going on in Zimbabwe.

U.S. officials, who say they have little leverage with Harare, have been privately critical of South Africa for what they see as a lack of assertiveness in its dealings with the Mugabe government on human rights issues.

Spokesman McCormack said the administration officials are awaiting the report of a special United Nations envoy Anna Tibaijuka, who is in Zimbabwe investigating the slum-clearance program.

In the meantime, he said the United States has allocated an additional $750,000 to the International Organization for Migration, which is assisting displaced persons in Zimbabwe.

About $1 million had been previously committed to the Geneva-based organization for its Zimbabwe activities.