Zimbabwe crisis worsens amid impasse, Amnesty says

By Paul Simao

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 31 (Reuters) – Human rights abuses are going unpunished and the food crisis is worsening in Zimbabwe while President Robert Mugabe and the opposition bicker over forming a unity government, Amnesty International said on Friday.

Mugabe and the leaders of the opposition MDC agreed last month to share power, but talks have become bogged down over control of ministries. A deal is seen as critical to reversing an economic meltdown in the southern African nation.

Zimbabweans are struggling to survive amid chronic shortages of meat, milk and other basic commodities as a result of the collapse of the agricultural sector. The country is dependent on food handouts and malnutrition is on the rise.

“We are worried that human rights have not been at the centre of the negotiation process,” Simeon Mawanza, the rights group’s Zimbabwe expert, said in a press release accompanying a report on the humanitarian situation in the country.

“While the parties continue to negotiate on political details, the most vulnerable Zimbabweans are at further risk of extreme hunger. Many Zimbabweans are now only surviving by eating wild fruit.”

London-based Amnesty said no one had been held accountable for the beatings, torture and other rights violations that occurred before the June presidential election even though it said most victims it interviewed could identify their attackers.

MARCH ELECTION

It said the perpetrators usually were in the security forces, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party or were pro-Mugabe war veterans. The 84-year-old Zimbabwean leader has blamed the opposition for the bloodshed that killed more than 100 people.

A March presidential election won by Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai was generally peaceful, but the June run-off was marred by widespread attacks on opposition supporters by security forces.

Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round, citing the attacks on his supporters. Mugabe won the one-candidate race, prompting an international outcry and paving the way for the start of power-sharing negotiations.

Those talks culminated in a Sept. 15 agreement that spurred hopes of a quick economic recovery.

But the economy has continued to unravel during the weeks of fruitless talks over formation of a cabinet, and there are now fears the coming harvest could be worse than last year.

Amnesty said the election-related violence had worsened the food crisis because many victims were farmers who were too badly injured to till their land during the coming rainy season.

“If we think the food situation in Zimbabwe is bad now, just wait until the end of this year when half of the population is likely to need aid,” Mawanza said. There are an estimated 13 million people in Zimbabwe.

(Editing by Peter Millership)

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