High level UN team to help in Zim humanitarian crisis

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Addis Ababa - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has agreed to allow a top-level United Nations (UN) team to enter Zimbabwe to explore ways to end the humanitarian crisis there and find out what aid is most needed.

Last week, Mr Mugabe and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions agreed to form a unity government after a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit was held in Pretoria to discuss the ongoing political violence.

Under the agreement, Mr Mugabe will remain President while MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai will be sworn in as Prime Minister. This is expected on 11 February.

It is hoped the agreement will lift Zimbabwe out of a worsening humanitarian disaster. Zimbabwe's basic infrastructure has collapsed under the economic crisis, while cholera has killed more than 3 000 Zimbabweans and infected at least 57 000, according to the World Health Organisation.

During a press conference held on the sidelines of the 12th African Union (AU) Summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said President Mugabe had assured him that he and his country would be fully open to humanitarian work and activities.

"I have urged President Mugabe to build up on this new development and try to make progress as soon as possible so that they can ensure full democracy and freedom," he said.

Mr Ban said the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, "which has reached an almost unbearable point for the people, has been a source of deep concern for the international community".

He warned that a mere agreement would not be enough to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis. For the union government to work the Zimbabwe government will have to release political prisoners and end human rights abuses.

"I urge them to fully protect the human rights of the Zimbabwean people and release all prisoners who have been arrested over the last few months."

Mr Ban had earlier described the agreements as the first step towards full democracy, but there is still a long way to go. -