US Warns Citizens in Zimbabwe as Food Situation Worsens

Stephen Mbogo

US Warns Citizens in Zimbabwe as Food Situation Worsens

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Amid an escalating humanitarian and political crisis in Zimbabwe, Washington has warned Americans still there to consider leaving the country because of the deteriorating security situation.

African analysts expect the situation to deteriorate further. Thousands of Zimbabweans are flocking into neighboring countries like Botswana and South Africa to escape the economic crisis at home.

The U.S. has warned that it is considering imposing economic sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his Cabinet, on top of an existing travel ban on the ruling circle.

The State Department's committee on Africa is due to meet soon to discuss the issue.

Steps under consideration include the freezing of Cabinet ministers' bank accounts and the seizure of their assets in the U.S., as well as prohibitions on government officials entering into trade agreements with the U.S.

Similar measures have already been implemented by the European Union, Australia and New Zealand.

Bruce Wharton, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Harare, said he "would not want to speculate about possible future policy decisions regarding Zimbabwe."

The food crisis in Zimbabwe has been classified as an "emergency" situation by the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) NET, a division of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

About 6.7 million people (or 49 percent of the population) are "extremely food insecure," FEWS said its latest report.

About one-third of that number currently relies on food aid from the World Food Program (WFP).

The government's Grain Marketing Board, the only legal grain trader in Zimbabwe, is providing erratic supply of relief food to 75 percent of the country, although allegations continue about selective distribution.

Church leaders in Harare and other Zimbabwean centers on Friday charged that the government was starving ordinary citizens who oppose its policies.

The leaders accused the government of hijacking food from relief agencies, as well as intimidating, torturing, and otherwise abusing an already starving population.

"This cannot be allowed to continue," they said in a statement.

"Efforts of churches, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other concerned bodies to feed the hungry are greatly undermined in many areas by a callous and deliberate policy of rewarding or punishing voters according to their political affiliation."

Last month, reports emerged about an alleged plan to allow Mugabe to go into exile in Malaysia in exchange for a full amnesty for human rights abuses and other crimes he stands accused of.

The reported plan would see the installation of a new government of national unity, which would seek to resolve Zimbabwe's socio-economic crisis.

Both Mugabe and Malaysia denied the reports, however.

Many of the political and socioeconomic problems faced to Zimbabwe emanate from a race-based land redistribution policy initiated by Mugabe two years ago.

Thousands of white-owed farms were confiscated and given to black African peasant
farmers and Mugabe's close allies.

The government also clamped down on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), dozens of whose members were assaulted or killed in the run-up to presidential elections last March.

Mugabe, who had by then been in power for 22 years, claimed victory in the poll despite widespread condemnation. The U.S. and other Western countries said the election was fraught with irregularities and far from free and fair.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and two colleagues went on trial in Harare this week accused of plotting to kill Mugabe. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

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