Thursday, May 15, 2008

Western ambassadors call on Zim govt to end violence

Western ambassadors call on Zim govt to end violence
By George Chellah in Harare, Zimbabwe
Thursday May 15, 2008 [04:00]

WESTERN ambassadors have called on the Zimbabwean government to end the post-election political violence. And US Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee was on Tuesday afternoon involved in a stand-off with armed policemen after they attempted to block him from touring hospitals treating victims of political violence outside Harare.

A group of European and US diplomats is currently conducting private visits to victims of political violence that is reportedly taking place especially in the countryside.

Speaking after visiting some victims at Harare's Avenues Clinic, Ambassador McGee urged the Zimbabwean authorities to act and end the violence.

Ambassador McGee described the violence as absolute brutality.
He said there was no way the authorities could delay reports of violence because the diplomats had the pictures and sound bites of the victims.

British Ambassador Andrew Pocock the accused the government of committing violence against its people.

Ambassador Pocock said the government perpetrated violence in order to remain in office.

Other diplomats that were part of the team that visited Avenues Clinic include, ambassadors from Spain, Germany, European Union, Netherlands, Sweden and officials from the Angolan embassy.

And on Tuesday afternoon, a convoy of diplomats led by Ambassador McGee attempted to tour a hospital in Mvurwi, about 80 kilometres north of Harare, but were blocked by armed policemen.

They were blocked from touring the wards because they did not make prior arrangements and on their way out, they were accosted by four armed policemen who also blocked their way.

A stand-off lasting around 10 minutes ensued before Ambassador McGee forcefully moved forward and opened the gates himself to leave the government hospital.

Later, as the convoy left for the capital, it was detained at a roadblock for almost an hour where police asked for a diplomatic clearance note that allows them to travel 40 kilometres outside the capital.

After being released, the group travelled to another hospital in Centenary, about 150 kilometres north of Harare, where they were able to spend 30 minutes with victims of violence.

"I think it is absolutely urgent that the entire world knows what's happening in Zimbabwe," Ambassador McGee said.

"The Zimbabwean government has said 'present us with proof of what is happening' ... now we have concrete proof of what is happening."

Two weeks ago, South African President Thabo Mbeki sent a team led by Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo to investigate incidents of violence in Zimbabwe.
And speaking on SW Radio Africa's Hot-seat programme, Ambassador McGee maintained that the situation in Zimbabwe was a human rights and humanitarian crisis.

"We are still getting numerous reports of violence and intimidation in the countryside. We have unconfirmed reports that we are trying to log down right now of up to 10 people who were beaten to death in an area outside of Harare. We still have firm reports of people being hospitalised with broken limbs, people hospitalised with burns and these are all people who have been abducted or forced to go to torture-camps," Ambassador McGee said.

"They are forced to sing songs, forced to renounce their membership in the MDC - in many cases to give up MDC voting cards. So I would say that the human rights issues are exactly the same or possibly even worse. On a humanitarian side we are still receiving reports that there are granaries that have been burnt. People are still having problems accessing food.

We are trying to deal with that issue but it's becoming problematic because it's difficult for many of the NGOs who deal with those type of issues to even travel in the countryside."
He said most victims of violence were opposition MDC members.

"We have literally hundreds of reports, affidavits, pictures... people coming in and telling us their stories, us going to hospitals where the victims are literally 99.9 per cent MDC.

We have had one or two cases recently where ZANU-PF people have been victimised. I can't say this with total assurance but it seems that these people may have been victimised in retaliation from what they started," Ambassador McGee said.

Asked what action would be taken in light of the documentation of all the alleged atrocities, Ambassador McGee answered: "We are collecting this to send off to the UN. We have already sent off one package to the UN. Just this morning, I met with Ambassadors from SADC countries.

We are giving them the same information that we passed on to the UN and we will continue to do that - working with SADC, the African Union and the UN to see what they can bring to the table to end this violence in Zimbabwe."

When asked to comment on claims that President Mbeki had been blocking the Zimbabwean situation from being put on the agenda at the UN Security Council, Ambassador McGee responded: "We of course would have liked to have seen those issues tabled at the United Nations.

South Africa had the Chair at the time and it chose not to allow those issues to come to the fore. That will happen in the future. That will happen in the very near future. The issues of Zimbabwe will be seen and heard by the world."

The United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Zimbabwe on Tuesday described the ongoing post-election violence as unacceptable and warned of a humanitarian crisis if the political violence is left unresolved.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it was failing to reach the 184,000 children under its care in the rural areas because of the escalating political violence.

And on Sunday, Zimbabwean doctors said the number of victims of politically-motivated violence and torture had reached 900 with 22 confirmed deaths since the March 29 election.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said the statistics of violence perpetrated by state agents ahead of a presidential runoff election were grossly underestimated, as the violence was now on such a scale that it was impossible to properly document all cases.

On sanctions, Ambassador McGee explained that contrary to the government's claims the sanctions were targeted.

"We do not have sanctions against the country of Zimbabwe. Our sanctions are very, very targeted. We have approximately 500 individuals in Zimbabwe who we have targeted sanctions against.

Now the real issue of sanctions is this, President Mugabe continues to say that we have sanctions against Zimbabwe and that the country cannot access international lines of credit. The real problem is Zimbabwe has not paid its debts.

Zimbabwe owes the World Bank over 600 million dollars, they owe the African Development Bank over 400 million dollars. They have not paid their debts and they are not going to be able to access lines of credit from these lending institutions until they do pay their debt," he said.
He said the targeted sanctions were very effective.

"The majority of the sanctions like visa sanctions have stopped people from travelling to the United States; the other countries have joined us in those sanctions. We are now looking at additional sanctions that we can impose on individuals that might even include financial sanctions," said Ambassador McGee.



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