SLUG: 2-296646 Zimbabwe/Human Rights (L-O)
TITLE=ZIMBABWE / HUMAN RIGHTS (L ONLY)
INTRO: A group of Danish doctors released a report Wednesday claiming that
Zimbabwe's ruling party, Zanu PF, is using food as a political weapon. Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare.
TEXT: The group Physicians for Human Rights said Wednesday there is gross abuse of food imported by the Zimbabwe Government.
The doctors spent two months collecting information, and interviewing people, mainly in the dry Matabeleland province in southern Zimbabwe.
The report says the government's Food For Work program is corrupt. It provides several examples of supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who were hired to work on the program and then were not paid, and therefore were unable to buy food.
The report also says that many suspected opposition supporters were denied access to employment in the Food For Work program.
It also says the government is selling grain to chosen retailers, who are known to be ruling Zanu PF supporters. The report says they, in turn, have their own lists of people they will allow to buy food.
The report gives several examples of corrupt Zanu PF officials allowed to buy grain at the low official price, who then sell it at huge profits to ruling party supporters.
The report mentions an example of an opposition supporter, a single mother of eight children, who Zanu PF officials would not include on a list of those who qualify for food aid distributed by a non-governmental organization until she cancelled her membership in the opposition party.
The World Food Program, responsible for importing nearly all food aid into Zimbabwe, said Wednesday the case of the mother of eight was disturbing and would be urgently investigated.
The World Food Program only has resources to feed two million people in Zimbabwe, fewer than a third of those it says are at risk of starvation.
Earlier this month United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan criticized the Zimbabwe government for repeated allegations of partisan food distribution.
There are no records available to the public of how much grain the Zimbabwe
government is importing.
Many journalists have been reporting the misuse of public food for several months. But the Physicians for Human Rights document is the first independent and systematic report on the abuse of scarce food supplies at a time of massive hunger across the country.
Researchers hired by the Danish group worked in secret from August to October mainly in rural areas. Their previous reports on torture in Zimbabwe were widely respected by local human rights groups.
Officials from the Zimbabwe Welfare Ministry, responsible for food relief, were not
available Wednesday to respond to the report. (Signed)
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