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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 16:40 GMT
Mugabe rejects UN offer of tents
Jan Egeland visits people in Hatcliff camp near Harare
Egeland found himself wading through mud in some areas
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has rejected a UN offer to supply tents for the hundreds of thousands of people whose houses were demolished this year.

His spokesman said the United Nations should build permanent structures to replace the houses knocked down in a government operation to reduce crime.

A meeting with top UN envoy Jan Egeland in Harare failed to end the row.

The UN has criticised the demolitions, saying they were carried out "with indifference to human suffering".

The UN says 700,000 people lost either their homes or their livlihoods or both in the Operation Murambatsvina (Drive Out Rubbish) - a figure disputed by the government.

'Tents people'

After "frank" talks with Mr Mugabe, Mr Egeland said they had agreed that the international community should do more to meet humanitarian needs in Zimbabwe.

"We do not disagree on the need to help people help themselves," he said.

We have just been dumped here with no shelter, no food
Beauty Mujakachi
"There is disagreement around the eviction campaign. There is disagreement on how to help those who have been evicted. But this is not the time to list all the points of disagreement."

"The president stressed we are not tents people," said Mr Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba, arguing that other countries were getting more help.

"Tents just don't auger well with our culture... If the UN does not have enough money for permanent shelter let the little they have be used to augment what the government already has."

Mr Egeland spent Monday meeting people living in camps and said some of them were living in inadequate conditions.

He visited Whitecliff to see two-roomed homes being built to house some of the evicted.

In Hopley, he saw thousands of people living in plastic shacks since their brick homes were demolished at the nearby Porta Farm settlement.

"We have just been dumped here with no shelter, no food - a lot of us are forced to go begging in town," Beauty Mujakachi, a young mother, told Reuters news agency at the camp.

Hard choice

According to the government, the slum clearances were intended to reduce crime and overcrowding.

The UN report describes Zimbabwe as being "in a virtual state of emergency".

Man cooking on a fire
The evictions have left hundreds of thousands of people homeless
It said the forced evictions had deepened the country's economic problems and caused untold misery.

In south-western Zimbabwe, Mr Egeland is expected to travel into rural areas where people are suffering severe food shortages.

Mr Mugabe last week agreed to let the UN provide food aid to some three million people over the next year.

Lobby group Human Rights Watch has said that since the UN report, UN agencies in Zimbabwe had not done enough to help destitute people and have been reluctant to confront Mr Mugabe's government.

A senior UN official in the region told the BBC that the agencies were "caught between a rock and a hard place".

They have an obligation to maintain a presence in Zimbabwe and, he said, they cannot achieve much without collaborating with Mr Mugabe.

See why the UN is concerned about Zimbabwe

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