Zimbabwe has refused former UN head Kofi Annan and ex-US President Jimmy Carter entry to the country. Carter said the Harare government had become "immune" to the suffering of its people. Robert Mugabe later denied barring Annan from the country.
Former US president Jimmy Carter and ex-UN secertary general Kofi Annan on Saturday met Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after failing to enter the counry for a humanitarian mission.
Carter accused Harare of ignoring the hardships of its people as he, Annan and human rights activist Graca Machel -- the wife of ex-South African president Nelson Mandela -- were refused visas.
But the foreign ministry in Harare -- which earlier said the visit was aimed at boosting the opposition in power-sharing talks -- denied that it had barred the trio from entering.
"We've been told by a senior official here that they felt our presence may interfere with the political negotiations," Annan told a joint press conference in Johannesburg.
"It is obvious the government is determined to prevent our entry in Zimbabwe," said Carter, adding that President Robert Mugabe's regime was "immune to reaching out for help for their own people."
But in Harare, foreign ministry spokesman Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said: "The government of Zimbabwe has not barred Mr Annan and his team from coming to Zimbabwe."
The visit had only been postponed, he said because Annan had not consulted the government on its timing and programme, "as is the normal practice."
He added: "It is most unfortunate that the former secretary general has, for reasons best known to himself, misrepresented the position of the government of Zimbabwe.
"We expect someone of his level to observe the correct procedure and practice."
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have yet to form a unity government, despite several failed attempts by regional leaders to force the implementation of a September 15 accord.
Annan rejected accusations his delegation was partisan, stating that its mission was purely to assess Zimbabwe's humanitarian needs. "We have made it clear we are not here to get involved in the political process," he said.
Annan, Carter and Machel are members of the Elders, a group of 12 world-respected statesmen with experience in conflict resolution that was formed last year by Machel and Mandela on his 89th birthday.
"We are very disappointed that the government of Zimbabwe will not permit us to come in and will not cooperate," Carter said earlier, adding that it was the first time he had ever been refused a visa.
Carter and Annan nevertheless went ahead with talks in Johannesburg with Tsvangirai, an aide said.
"They met him around lunch time today. I am not in the position to describe the nature of the conversation but it was focused on the Elders' mission which is to understand the humanitarian crisis," the aide said.
US President George W. Bush meanwhile blasted Mugabe's "illegitimate regime" and called for a new order.
"We call for an end to the Mugabe regime’s brutal repression of basic freedoms and for the formation of a legitimate government that represents the will of the people as expressed in the March 2008 elections," Bush said in a statement released as he attended an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru.
"In addition to its disastrous economic policies which have forced half the population to rely on food assistance, the Mugabe regime is now assaulting doctors and nurses, denying citizens access to basic medical services, and stealing donor funds intended for HIV/AIDS patients," he charged.
Zimbabwe's economy has been in free-fall for years, leaving 80 percent of the population in poverty and nearly half the country in need of emergency food aid by January, according to the United Nations.
The country suffers the world's highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231 million percent in July, causing a breakdown in water and sanitation that has sparked an outbreak of cholera that has killed 294 people in recent weeks, according to the US ambassador.
Western nations have said they are ready to release hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, but not while Mugabe retains his sole grip on power.
In a sign that regional powers were getting tougher on the issue, South Africa said Thursday it would hold back nearly 30 million dollars of aid to Zimbabwe until a new government is formed.
South Africa is due to host a fresh round of talks next week under former president Thabo Mbeki, who brokered Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal more than two months ago.
Tsvangirai won the most votes in March's presidential election but fell short of an outright majority after his Movement for Democratic Change became the largest party in parliament for the first time.
He pulled out of a run-off against Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe non-stop since independence from Britain in 1980, accusing the 84-year-old of orchestrating attacks against his opposition supporters.
Date created : 2008-11-22