UN official fears for Zimbabwe govt

October 29, 2009 12:00 am

, JOHANNESBURG, Oct 29 – A UN torture expert expelled from Zimbabwe on Thursday said he feared the country’s unity government could fall apart, as regional leaders tried to mediate an end to the latest crisis.

Manfred Nowak was detained late Wednesday on his arrival in Harare, where he was set to begin an eight-day investigation into alleged human rights abuses and arrests of activists opposed to long-ruling President Robert Mugabe.

He told AFP in an interview that his expulsion highlighted the failings of the eight-month-old unity government.

"The government, as a unity government, does not function," he said after arriving in Johannesburg from Harare.

"It sheds a very negative light on the functioning of the government."

Nowak said he hoped southern African officials who began meeting in Harare on Thursday could mediate an end to the crisis that has paralysed the unity government between Mugabe and the new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

But he later told a press conference that the violence still rattling the country echoed the unrest that hit Zimbabwe during last year’s disputed presidential elections.

"I am afraid that it might as well escalate and this government falls apart," he told reporters.

He was expelled despite an official invitation from Tsvangirai — a decision the torture expert blamed on Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.

"The responsibility for the failure rests exclusively… with those ZANU-PF members of the government of Zimbabwe that actually produced the situation by denying me access to the country," he told reporters.

"It sheds a clear light as to where the real power is lying in this unity government," he added.

Tsvangirai cut ties with Mugabe’s "dishonest and unreliable" camp nearly two weeks ago, in protest at a crackdown on his supporters and a deadlock over key appointments, in the biggest threat yet to fragile partnership.

A delegation of foreign ministers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which brokered the unity deal, began talks in Harare on Thursday in hopes of easing the crisis.

Zimbabwe withdrew an invitation for Nowak to visit just two days before his arrival, citing the "previously unanticipated consultative process" with SADC.

SADC bills its visit as a delayed but scheduled review of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which underpins the power-sharing government.

"The mission is to review the GPA. Obviously, we have to take into consideration what is going on," SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao told reporters in Harare.

After Harare withdrew its invitation to Nowak, Tsvangirai made his own invitation for the torture expert to visit, only to be denied entry for his planned eight-day fact-finding mission.

The state-run Herald newspaper on Thursday accused Nowak of trying to "gatecrash into the country" as the SADC foreign ministers arrived for Thursday’s meeting.

Amnesty International warned that lack of respect for human rights in Zimbabwe was worsening with "unlawful arrests and malicious prosecutions", calling for regional action.

"Zimbabwe is on the brink of sliding back into the post-election violence that marred the country last year, risking undermining the stability brought about by the creation of the unity government in February," it said.


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