Zimbabwe unity deal is `imperfect' – UN Secretary General

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) –The U.N. chief said Monday that Zimbabwe's newly forged national unity government is an "imperfect" solution, and that it can only resolve the country's political crisis if Robert Mugabe makes further progress.\r\n

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — who met Mugabe on Sunday on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa — said he urged him to move the country forward politically by taking important steps such as releasing political prisoners.

On Friday, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party agreed to join a unity government with Mugabe within weeks, bowing to pressure to conclude a deal so the nation’s humanitarian crisis can be tackled.

"While I have welcomed the decision of Mr. Tsvangirai and MDC’s decision to join unity government, I still believe this is an imperfect situation," Ban told journalists Monday. "I have urged President Mugabe to build upon this new development … and try to make progress as soon as possible, so that they can ensure the fuller democracy and freedom."

Zimbabwe has been in a political crisis since disputed presidential elections last year. Today, it has the world’s highest official inflation rate, cholera has killed more than 3,000 people since August, and millions need food aid.

Meanwhile the Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has agreed to allow a top-level United Nations team to visit Zimbabwe to find ways of curbing a cholera epidemic and a hunger crisis, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday.

Ban told reporters that he had met with Mugabe on Sunday on the sidelines of the African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital.

The meeting came three days after the country’s main opposition agreed to form a unity government with the 84-year-old president, a decision that Ban warned would not be enough to resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis.

"The humanitarian situation, which has reached an almost unbearable point for the people in Zimbabwe, has been a source of deep, deep concern for the international community, for the United Nations," Ban told a press conference.

"He assured me that he and his country would be fully open to humanitarian work and activities," Ban said.

Mugabe agreed to accept a high-level UN team led by assistant secretary-general on humanitarian affairs Catherine Bragg, who would assess the crisis and find ways to deliver aid, Ban said.

A cholera epidemic has killed more than 3 000 people in Zimbabwe, while 7 million people – more than half the population – need emergency food aid, according to UN figures.