Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe halts relief operations

June 4th, 2008 - 6:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Harare, June 4 (DPA) President Robert Mugabe’s government has suspended the operations of CARE International, the United States-based relief organization, alleging involvement in “political activity,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday. The government’s action has affected aid delivery to 500,000 people, CARE said. The organization’s 300 Zimbabwean employees were “currently at home, pending further notice from the government.”

The statement said that last year in the “lean period” between crop harvests, 920,000 Zimbabweans were fed by CARE.

A United Nations assessment of the country’s famine relief needs is expected shortly, but analysts point out that Zimbabwe’s grain harvest this year is expected to be only 500 000 tonnes, about 35 percent lower than last year’s, against national demand of about 2 million tonnes.

“CARE has strict policies against political involvement, and we categorically deny that the organization has encouraged or tolerated any political activity,” the statement said.

It said the organization had requested details of the allegations, including the names of personnel involved, and the place and date on which it was supposed to have occurred. “We have not received details,” CARE said.

Mugabe’s government has repeatedly been denounced for using food as a political weapon, and human rights agencies and diplomats confirm charges that food aid is routinely withheld from opposition party supporters. In the last five years, the government has sharply curtailed the operations of food aid agencies, and put itself in control of most famine relief.

The action against CARE comes just under a month before a run-off presidential election, and in the midst of a wave of violence against opposition supporters.

“CARE is committed to providing independent, impartial and apolitical relief development assistance on the basis of need to improve sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable populations,” the statement said. “This is according to the (Zimbabwe government’s) code of conduct for non-governmental organizations, and also CARE International’s code of ethics. CARE has strict policies against political involvement.”

“We pledge to cooperate with the government in resolving the situation so that humanitarian operations may resume as soon as possible,” it said.

CARE has been operating in Zimbabwe since 1992, and has channelled over 100 million US dollars in development assistance to over one million people, it said.

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