Annan to visit Zimbabwe despite Robert Mugabe's objection

Annan announced last week that he would travel to Zimbabwe this weekend with former US president Jimmy Carter and rights activist Graça Machel, wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

But Mugabe’s government warned on Thursday that the trio, who belong to a group of statesmen known as the Elders, should postpone the mission, claiming that they were trying to support the opposition in power-sharing talks.

"The original plan is that the Elders will visit Zimbabwe on November 22 and 23. That plan has not changed. They will still go to Harare," said Katy Cronin, spokesperson for the Elders.

Annan said in a statement that they have no intention of interfering in talks on Zimbabwe’s proposed unity government.

He said that the visit will enable them "to make a first-hand assessment of the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe".

"The Elders are deeply concerned about the impact of the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe on the population," he said.

"The purpose of our visit is to meet those working on the ground to better assess the extent of the crisis and how assistance can be improved," Annan said.

"We have sought meetings with political leaders in Zimbabwe and would be pleased to hear their views."

Cronin said that Annan had sought a meeting with Mugabe but had received no reply.

The government-mouthpiece Herald newspaper denounced their trip, saying: "The visit has been deemed a partisan mission by a group of people with partisan interests."

Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed on September 15 to form a unity government, but the talks have broken down over disputes on how to divide control of key Cabinet posts.

‘Window of opportunity’
Meanwhile, South Africa said on Thursday it would not release nearly R300-million in aid to Zimbabwe until it forms a new government.

The failure of Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to form a unity government meant that "a window of opportunity" for aid had passed, said South African government spokesperson Themba Maseko.

South Africa last month approved R300-million in agricultural aid to Zimbabwe.

"However, this money will be only disbursed once a representative government was in place and in time for the next planting season in April 2009," Maseko said.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have yet to form a unity government, despite several failed attempts by regional leaders to implement the agreement aimed at ending the country’s political turmoil and economic meltdown.

Hundreds dead from cholera in Zimbabwe
The US ambassador to Harare, James McGee, said on Thursday that a total of 294 people have been confirmed dead from cholera in Zimbabwe, amid about 1 200 cases of the water-borne disease.

"The water situation, sanitation situation has gone through the ceiling," McGee told reporters in Washington via a satellite hookup from Harare.

"There are over 1 200 confirmed cases of cholera and another 2 500 unconfirmed cases of cholera," McGee said, adding that the death toll had risen to 294, which is higher than the official toll.

Officials in Harare said the outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe over the last month has now claimed at least 90 lives, including three deaths of Zimbabweans across the border in South Africa.

At least 37 people have died in Beitbridge, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said on national radio.

Three Zimbabweans have died across the border in the South African town of Musina, officials there said.

Another 37 people have died in the capital Harare, while a new outbreak in the central town of Gweru has killed 13 people, state media said Thursday.

Médécins Sans Frontières warned on Tuesday that 1,4-million people are at risk of the disease in Harare alone, and cases of cholera have been detected as far away as Durban. – AFP