Page last updated at 03:17 GMT, Friday, 6 June 2008 04:17 UK

Zimbabwe suspends aid operations

Harare (3 June 2008)
Zimbabwe's government had already banned one foreign aid group

Zimbabwe's government has indefinitely suspended all field work by aid groups and non-governmental organisations.

Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche accused several of "breaching the terms and conditions of their registration", in a written notice sent to the groups.

Earlier, police detained a group of US and UK diplomats for several hours as they investigated political violence there, US ambassador James McGee said.

The US and UK demanded an explanation for the "unjust and outrageous" move.

Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu accused Mr McGee and the UK High Commissioner of working with the opposition to incite the population and warned they risked being expelled.

He also insisted the police had every right to question the diplomats.

'Detrimental effect'

The suspension of all field operations by private voluntary organisations (PVOs) and NGOs comes nearly a week after President Robert Mugabe banned some aid agencies from Zimbabwe.

Care International, a UK-based organisation, was forbidden to work after being accused of campaigning for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ahead of the presidential run-off on 27 June. Care has strenuously denied the accusation.

I hereby instruct all private voluntary organisations/NGOs to suspend all field operations until further notice
Nicholas Goche
Zimbabwean Social Welfare Minister

Other aid agencies have said they have had to curtail what they do, particularly in opposition strongholds.

Some aid workers believe the government fears they might witness intimidation of opposition supporters, the BBC's Caroline Hawley in Johannesburg, South Africa, reports.

"A number of NGOs involved in humanitarian operations are breaching the terms and conditions of their registration," Mr Goche wrote.

"I hereby instruct all private voluntary organisations/NGOs to suspend all field operations until further notice."

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC that a number of aid organisations had been campaigning for the opposition and distributing food only to opposition supporters.

A spokesman for the Save the Children fund, Dominic Nutt, told the BBC the suspension of the work of NGOs would have a "significant and detrimental effect on the many people it was trying to help".

Judith Melby of Christian Aid said aid agencies would be meeting in Harare and "discussing their next steps".

Under Mr Mugabe's policies of reclaiming land from white farmers and redistributing it among black supporters, Zimbabwe's once-abundant food production has plummeted.

Almost half of the population suffer from malnutrition. About 80% of the country's 12.3m people are unemployed and many depend on food aid.

'Stop the fiction'

Earlier, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai resumed campaigning for the presidential election, after being freed without charge.

Morgan Tsvangirai (30 May 2008)
The MDC says 65 of its supporters have been killed since the election

Mr Tsvangirai was detained for eight hours after police accused him of violating public order laws by addressing a rally. He described the move as harassment.

South Africa later said his release came after an appeal by President Thabo Mbeki, who telephoned the Zimbabwean government.

Our correspondent says the detention was part of an escalating campaign of state-sponsored violence ahead of the run-off vote between President Robert Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai.

The MDC has said at least 65 of its supporters have been killed since the election's first round in March, which Mr Tsvangirai won.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, told the BBC that the "conditions in Zimbabwe are not yet present to have a free or fair election".

"We have to step back and stop the fiction that somehow we are going to be prepared for a run-off, unless there is some sort of aggressive action taken not only by the South African government but also by Sadc (Southern African Development Community) as a whole," she said.

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