UN envoy arrives in Zimbabwe

Arriving in Harare, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, executive director of the Nairobi-based UN Habitat program, said she wants to discuss ways of helping Zimbabweans affected by the five-week blitz.

“We are basically looking at the operation which is taking place here and to see the impact and how can we work together to assist all those affected,” said Ms Tibaijuka, adding that her mission would last “several days”.

Zimbabwean police have been carrying out the two-pronged ‘Operation Restore Order’ and ‘Operation Murambatsvina’, which means “drive out the rubbish”.

They have been flattening backyard shacks and shop stalls in cities and towns across the country.

The UN says at least 200,000 people have lost their homes in the campaign, but the Zimbabwe opposition maintains that 1.5 million people have been affected.

Critics say the campaign is to punish urban voters who supported the opposition in the March elections won by President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party and to drive Zimbabweans back to the countryside.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last Monday announced that he had appointed Ms Tibaijuka as his special envoy for Human Settlement Issues in Zimbabwe.

“The secretary general is of course following the situation with keen interest,” said the envoy, who is due to meet Mr Mugabe this week.

Ms Tibaijuka is expected to tour settlements that have been wiped out.

On the day of her arrival, a state newspaper reported that a new effort, Operation Live Well, had been launched to build houses and facilities following the demolition campaign.

“The clean-up operation code-named “Operation Restore Order” is winding up and is being replaced by a new one known as “Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (Live Well),” The Sunday Mail said.

The new operation “will see the construction of houses, micro, small and medium enterprise business facilities and attendant infrastructure in cities, towns, townships, growth points and resettlement areas,” the newspaper said.

The army, unemployed youth and retired artisans will be hired to work in the effort, the report said.

Mr Mugabe has repeatedly defended the operation, which has attracted widespread condemnation from local churches, the opposition, rights groups and the international community.