United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to release all prisoners arrested over the past few months, following the agreement between the governing and opposition parties to form a government.
In a meeting in Addis Ababa yesterday on the margins of the African Union summit, Mr. Ban welcomed the agreement but he urged Mr. Mugabe to take immediate steps to address the humanitarian and economic crises plaguing the country, uphold the human rights and democratic freedoms of all Zimbabweans, and promote national reconciliation.
“I welcome the National Unity Government as a first step toward full democracy. But there remains a long way to go,” he told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital today, adding that he would immediately send a high-level humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe.
He pledged that the UN would work closely with the new government, in which opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai is to be Prime Minister, on the implementation of humanitarian programmes to help mitigate what he has previously called the “desperate” situation in the impoverished southern African country.
Zimbabwe has endured months of political tensions after disputed presidential elections in March involving Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai, and it is hoped the power-sharing deal will now allay these.
Beyond that, the country is in the throes of its worst recorded cholera epidemic which has already claimed 3,100 lives and infected 60,000 people, surpassing the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) worst-case scenario figure and indicating that the outbreak is spiralling out of control despite the concerted efforts of local health authorities, the UN and non-governmental organizations.
Last week the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) announced that it was releasing close to $8 million to help fight the spread of the disease amid collapsing social and other services.
UN agencies and their humanitarian partners have launched a $567 million appeal to support those in need in Zimbabwe in 2009, but only 12 per cent has been pledged so far.