Mugabe meets UN envoy as govt reduces observers

HARARE - A top United Nations (UN) envoy met President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday as the Zimbabwean leader's government announced it would accredit only a small fraction of the 50 000 local observers who applied to observe the country's run-off presidential election nine days away.

Diplomatic sources said UN assistant secretary general for political affairs Haile Menkerios discussed with Mugabe the technical requirements of the June 27 election and how the UN could assist towards a free and fair vote.

It was not immediately clear whether Menkerios, who arrived in Harare on Monday and remains in the Zimbabwean capital until Friday, would also meet opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. 

Tsvangirai starts as favourite to win the June 27 run-off poll that is being held because the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party leader defeated Mugabe in the first round election on March 29 but fell short of the margin required to takeover the presidency.

But political violence has marked campaigning for the run-off poll, amid charges by the MDC that Mugabe has unleashed state security forces and ruling ZANU PF party militias to wage violence against the opposition party’s supporters and structures in an attempt to regain the upper hand in the second ballot.

The opposition party says that at least 66 of its members have been killed in political violence over the past two months while several thousands more had been displaced from their homes.

The Southern African Development Community, Pan African Parliament and the African Union have all indicated they would increase observers to Zimbabwe’s run-off poll, while the United States and Britain on Monday urged Mugabe to accept international monitors to help stem political violence and ensure a free and fair poll.

But Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told journalists that Harare would severely cut back on local observers, saying only 10 000 out of the 50 000 who had applied would be accredited to observe the election.

Local observers who have an intimate knowledge of the local political terrain are crucial to ensuring a free and fair contest as they often work as the eyes and ears of foreign observers who usually are too few to cover the whole country.

We have 50 000 applicants and these would be scaled down to 10 000, said Chinamasa.

He did not say what criteria the government would use to select observers but said those applicants who were aligned to the MDC would not be accredited.

The government accuses nearly all the civic groups that observe elections, in particular the country’s largest independent election observer group, the Zimbabwe election Support Network (ZESN), of links to the MDC.

Meanwhile, the Pan African Parliament observer team has expressed concern at the high levels of political violence, which it said were not conducive to the holding of free and fair elections.

We have heard horrendous stories and seen unpleasant pictures (of political violence). We have seen gravesites and have confirmed deaths and murders with the police, team leader Marwick Khumalo told journalists in Harare.

Khumalo did not blame anyone for the political violence, saying such details will be contained in the final report of the mission. – ZimOnline

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