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UK resumes Zimbabwe deportation

LONDON, Oct 30 – Britain is moving to resume flights deporting failed asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe, a government minister said Thursday, citing a political power-sharing agreement in the troubled state.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said he was looking at "normalising" returns because the situation was "improving" after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was appointed prime minister in February.

Returns were halted three years ago in the wake of the violence and crisis that gripped the country under President Robert Mugabe.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is improving under the Inclusive Government and we will be looking to normalise our returns policy progressively as the political situation develops," he said in a written statement to parliament.

"As Prime Minister Tsvangirai has set out, including during his visit to the UK in June, there have been some positive changes in the situation in Zimbabwe over the past six months," he said.

Woolas also announced money and aid repatriation packages worth 6,000 pounds (6,600 euros 9,900 dollars) to asylum seekers who volunteered to go home.

Rights and refugee groups condemned the deportation move as "ludicrous," pointing to the expulsion of a UN torture expert from Zimbabwe.

"Our government is showing a cavalier attitude to the safety of refugees who have stood up for democracy and human rights," said Refugee Council chief executive Donna Covey.

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Amnesty International director Kate Allen said: "Just as the UN torture monitor is kicked out of the country and Amnesty warns of increasing violence, the Home Office says that Zimbabwe is getting safer."

UN envoy Manfred Nowak was expelled Thursday after arriving in Harare, where he had been set to meet Tsvangirai.

The prime minister severed his ties with long-term rival Mugabe two weeks ago in protest at a crackdown on his supporters and a deadlock over key appointments, in the latest crisis to grip the unity government.

More than 6,500 Zimbabweans have applied for political asylum in Britain over the last three years. Around 925 were granted refugee status, while around 4,500 had their applications for asylum rejected.

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