Zimbabwe continues eviction campaign, says China will protect it from U.S. censure
HARARE, Zimbabwe – Riot police turned an urban township into a ghost town Wednesday, rounding up the last residents in defiance of a U.N. call to halt a demolition campaign that has left 700,000 without homes or jobs.After emptying the Porta Farm township – where some 30,000 people lived just days ago – earth-movers were seen lumbering into the area to finish clearing debris from destroyed homes, cabins and shacks as part of what the government calls Operation Drive Out Trash. Police armed with batons and riot shields barred aid workers and residents from entering.The latest demolitions came as President Robert Mugabe paid a state visit to China, which is building a track record of willingness to do business with African leaders others shun.Mugabe is confident China will use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to protect Zimbabwe from any U.N. censure following the U.N. report denouncing the campaign as a violation of international law, a state-owned Harare newspaper, the Herald, reported Wednesday.U.N. envoy Anna Tibaijuka, meanwhile, presented her report on the slum clearance to the Security Council Wednesday, despite opposition from China, Russia and African countries.China’s deputy U.N. ambassador Zhang Yishan walked out and left a low-ranking diplomat in China’s seat. So did Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali. The United States and Britain had demanded a council briefing on the U.N. report.Tibaijuka called for urgent assistance to help those who lost their homes and jobs and said, “The demolitions should stop immediately.”Zimbabwe’s U.N. Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku said: “We have stopped demolition. We are in the reconstruction.”China, which has expanded business and diplomatic contacts in African trouble spots like Congo and Sudan, has not joined Western condemnation of Zimbabwe’s human rights record.In fact, China has become a key source of loans and supplies for Zimbabwe. Most recently, Beijing agreed to a loan to expand a power station and to supply a third Chinese-made MA60 commercial aircraft to Zimbabwe, state media in Beijing announced Wednesday. No details of the terms were reported.Opposition leaders claim Operation Drive Out Trash is intended to break up their strongholds among the urban poor and drive their supporters into rural areas, where they can be more easily controlled by government-allied chiefs.Zimbabwe’s government argues the campaign is aimed at reducing crime and restoring order in overcrowded slums and illegal markets, and has pledged to build new homes for those uprooted. But independent economists argue the government cannot afford the $325 million it has promised for reconstruction.The U.N. report, issued last week, says the demolitions “unleashed chaos and untold human suffering” in a country already gripped by economic crisis. In addition to those who lost homes and jobs, a further 2.4 million people have been affected by the countrywide campaign that began May 19 with little warning, the report said.China, which has close ties to President Robert Mugabe’s government, and Zimbabwe’s African neighbors had managed to keep the crisis in the African nation off the council’s agenda, arguing that it was not an issue of international peace and security.But with the minimum nine “yes” votes, the 15-member U.N. Security Council decided in a rare procedural vote Wednesday to allow Tibaijuka to brief a closed-door session on her highly criticial report.Zimbabwe’s government opened the Porta Farm township in 1991, moving in thousands of people from squatter camps in Harare so Britain’s Queen Elizabeth would not see them during her visit. Now, Mugabe wants to build a sewage plant there, officials say.Huts built by farmworkers also were being demolished on the outskirts of Chipinge, about 375 miles southeast of the capital, witnesses said. The workers were among 500,000 employees of whites whose farms were seized by the government.Covering the seizures and demolitions has been difficult because of desperate gasoline shortages and tough Zimbabwean media laws which prohibit reporting on stories the government believes would bring it into disrepute.Mugabe, meeting with China’s s No. 2 leader, Wu Bangguo, paid tribute to China as a “great friend, historical friend, brotherly friend.”South Africa also has stood by Zimbabwe, insisting quiet diplomacy is the best way to help the Zimbabwean people.South Africa has indicated it may take over some of the country’s huge foreign debt. The ruling African National Congress urged other countries Wednesday to act on U.N. recommendations to increase international assistance to the most vulnerable in Zimbabwe.The ANC also appealed to people to support the efforts of the South African Council of Churches, which plans to send a container of blankets, food, water and medicine to Zimbabwe next week as part of its “Operation Hope for Zimbabwe.” The church group said the relief effort was being coordinated with church groups and charities in Zimbabwe rather than the government.After seven years of unprecedented economic decline, 80 percent of the work force is unemployed and 4 million of Zimbabwe’s 16 million people have emigrated. Agriculture, once the mainstay, has been hit hard by Mugabe’s seizure of 5,000 white-owned farms.Mugabe alleges the country’s current economic and food crisis, with up to 4 million people needing urgent famine relief, is a result of Western boycotts and sanctions imposed in revenge for redistribution of whites’ land to black Zimbabweans.