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Zimbabwean Violence Threatens Credibility Of Polls

Zimbabwean violence threatens credibility of next week’s polls – Ban

18 June 2008 - The current violence, intimidation and arrest of opposition leaders in Zimbabwe are not conducive to credible elections, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling for an immediate halt to hostilities ahead of the presidential run-off round set for next week.

"Should these conditions continue to prevail, the legitimacy of the election outcomes would be in question," Mr. Ban said in an informal briefing to the General Assembly.

The Secretary-General expressed his "profound alarm" at the situation in the Southern African nation, which has witnessed deadly political violence since the first round of the presidential election on 29 March.

Compounding the political crisis is "an already deep social, economic and humanitarian crisis," in a country where as many as 4 million people are vulnerable and in need of help, he told the 192-member body.

Adding to the dire state of affairs is rapid economic decline and inflation of 355,000 per cent, collapsing social services, food insecurity and the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, he added.

Earlier today the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that up to five million Zimbabweans could face hunger by early next year unless immediate action is taken to address the country's food insecurity.

The Secretary-General also pointed out that the delivery of humanitarian assistance has increasingly been obstructed by authorities, community leaders, war veterans and militia members, a situation made worse by the Government's recent decision to ban non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from distributing aid.

"It is of utmost importance that the violence is stopped immediately and that humanitarian assistance is facilitated, not prevented," he stressed, urging the Government to rescind all restrictions on the work of NGOs, to ensure unfettered access to vulnerable populations for all agencies, and to ensure the security of all humanitarian workers.

Last week Mr. Ban dispatched Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios to Zimbabwe to discuss those issues with the parties before the run-off on 27 June, in which President Robert Mugabe will face Morgan Tsvangirai from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Mr. Menkerios has met with both leaders, as well as the Foreign Minister, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, church leaders and civil society groups, including human rights organizations.

Following his meeting with Mr. Mugabe yesterday, Mr. Menkerios told reporters the UN will be supporting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to boost its capacity to observe the election.

Regarding the security situation, he said "the reports have been about violence, people being displaced, houses being burned," adding that the Secretary-General is concerned about what measures can be put in place ahead of the elections.

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today denounced the expelling of a UN human rights official by Zimbabwe as "regrettable, untimely and uncooperative."

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, she added that the move appeared to fit with a pattern which the Government has chosen on non-cooperation with various international agencies.

The staff member in question, a Geneva-based desk officer, was on a routine mission, expecting to work with the UN Country Team and NGOs on issues relating to human rights. He was asked to leave Zimbabwe yesterday by the authorities, on the grounds that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had not given them enough warning about his visit.

OHCHR says it did alert the authorities, and Ms. Arbour said she would like to see Zimbabwe reverse its decision and allow the staff member to return.

ENDS

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