Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Mugabe to summon US ambassador

DPA , HARARE

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will this week summon US Ambassador Christopher Dell over a recent speech blaming the government for the country's economic decline, an official newspaper said yesterday.

Dell will be scolded for "interfering in the internal affairs of the country by issuing misleading statements," the state-controlled Sunday Mail quoted a government official as saying.

"The president is not happy with Mr. Dell's behavior," an unnamed official of the foreign ministry was quoted as saying. "The ambassador has been on a crusade uttering political statements expected from an opposition party official, and I think the president wants to put a stop to all that."

"We are not sure when he will be summoned by the president but it's definitely some time this week," the source said.

Last week Dell said in a speech at Africa University in eastern Zimbabwe that corruption and mismanagement had caused the rapid decline of the southern African country's once-prosperous economy.

"Neither drought nor sanctions are at the root of Zimbabwe's decline. The Zimbabwe government's own gross mismanagement of the economy and its corrupt rule has brought on the crisis," Dell said, according to a copy of his speech.

The ambassador also said that the US, which is imposing financial sanctions against members of Zimbabwe's ruling elite, would only support the country financially if it undertakes democratic reforms and repeals strict security and press laws.

"The government is very angry with this ambassador," presidential spokesman George Charamba told the Sunday Mail.

The newspaper said Dell would also be asked to explain why he is allegedly working on a report on Zimbabwe's political situation with Britain and other EU countries represented in Harare.

"The reports seek to highlight that there are gross human rights abuses and a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe," another official was quoted as saying.

Earlier this weekend, 14 Western embassies based in Harare issued a statement urging the Zimbabwean government to acknowledge it faced a humanitarian crisis in the wake of a wave of housing demolitions.

It was not immediately clear if this was the "report" the paper was referring to.

Mugabe's government accuses the US and former colonial power Britain of wanting to bring about a regime change in Zimbabwe.

The authorities say Britain has been stung by Harare's controversial land-reform program, launched five years ago, that saw thousands of white-owned farms seized by militant government supporters for redistribution to black farmers.

Critics say the exercise has caused the country's agricultural production to plummet. Zimbabwe, once dubbed the grain basket of southern Africa, will this year need to import 1.8 million tonnes of maize -- its total annual grain requirement.

Aid agencies say more than three million Zimbabweans, or a quarter of the population will need food aid by early next year. But the government says the figure is much lower.

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