- The US government warned yesterday that it might take
"intrusive, interventionist measures" to deliver food aid directly
to millions of famine-hit Zimbabweans if President Robert Mugabe continues
to starve his political opponents.
- Washington is considering measures that would challenge
Zimbabwe's sovereignty, the Guardian was told by Mark Bellamy, the principal
deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa. Such drastic measures are
being studied because the Mugabe regime is aggravating the effects of a
region-wide famine by blocking food from areas which support the opposition
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), he added.
- "We may have to be prepared to take some very intrusive,
interventionist measures to ensure aid delivery to Zimbabwe," Mr Bellamy
said by telephone from Washington.
- The plan was disclosed in the Zimbabwean state-owned
Herald newspaper under the headline "US plans to invade Harare".
- A representative for Mugabe said other African countries
should take heed of "the mad talk of intrusive and interventionist
challenges to Zimbabwe's sovereignty. Today it is about Zimbabwe. Heaven
knows who is next", he said.
- Bellamy, who develops US policy on Africa, said: "We
have disturbing reports of food being used as a political weapon by the
Mugabe government, of food aid being diverted and food being denied to
millions of opposition supporters.
- "For the sake of those hungry people it may be necessary
for us to undertake intrusive delivery and monitoring of food. The dilemmas
in the next six months may bring us face to face with Zimbabwe's sovereignty."
- He said Mugabe was "holding his people hostage the
way Saddam Hussein is holding his people hostage".
- Mugabe and other Zimbabwean officials deny using aid
as a political weapon. They maintain that food relief is distributed freely
- The government has however outlawed the private importation
of food, leaving the state grain marketing board with a monopoly on the
importation and wholesale deliveries of the staple maize meal. Aid agencies
and government critics claim that this gives the marketing board a stranglehold
on food availability throughout the country.
- The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development has failed
to get permission to import 100 tons of food aid, which sits at the Beitbridge
border post with South Africa. The MDC has also been refused permission
to import food.
- The marketing board's depots refuse to sell maize meal
to people identified as opposition supporters, according to accounts from
across the country. In addition, police roadblocks stop the MDC and ordinary
individuals from transporting all but the smallest parcels of maize meal
to hungry areas, numerous witnesses claim.
- Bellamy refused to specify what the US could do to deliver
food aid to Zimbabweans against the will of the government, but said the
Bush administration was "considering all approaches". Aid experts
suggested the possibility of air drops, such as in Sudan and to Kurdish
rebels in Iraq.
- "At the very least we need to see aggressive, assertive
monitoring to ensure that food is being distributed fairly throughout Zimbabwe,
in an even-handed, humanitarian way," Bellamy said. "We may have
to make hard choices. We will press for food to be distributed freely in
all areas of the country. We cannot take government assurances at face
value, we must monitor it and confirm it for ourselves."
- Washington provides about 50% of the food aid being distributed
in Zimbabwe by the UN world food programme.
- Zimbabwe was until recently considered the breadbasket
of southern Africa, but Mugabe's violent and chaotic land seizures, combined
with drought, have resulted in a crippling food shortage.
- Zimbabwe is by far the worst affected of the six southern
African countries threatened with famine. Of the 14-million people at risk
of starvation throughout southern Africa, 6.7 million are Zimbabwean, nearly
half the country's population.
- Washington's hard stance comes after other warnings from
the Bush administration. The US representative to the UN food and agricultural
organisation, Tony Hall, visited Zimbabwe last month and criticised the
government for preventing respected international charities, such as Save
the Children and Oxfam, from distributing food relief.
- The US does not consider Mugabe to be the "democratically
legitimate leader of his country", Walter Kansteiner, US assistant
secretary of state for Africa, said.
- He cited widespread state-sponsored violence in the March
presidential election, and evidence of large-scale vote-rigging. - Guardian
- (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001