Page last updated at 06:16 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 07:16 UK

Zimbabwe is worsening, UN warns

John Holmes said the decision to suspend NGOs was 'particularly regrettable'

The top UN humanitarian official says the situation in Zimbabwe is worsening, with up to four million people - a third of the population - needing aid.

Briefing the security Council, John Holmes condemned the government's recent ban on private relief work.

The US urged the council to discuss the humanitarian crisis and "state sponsored violence" ahead of elections.

It also said security forces had seized US food aid and distributed it to President Robert Mugabe's supporters.

Tensions have been running high in Zimbabwe ahead of the 27 June presidential run-off vote between the president and the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai.

The BBC has obtained documents suggesting that Zimbabwe's military is actively involved in running Mr Mugabe's re-election campaign.

The documents outline plans by ruling party Zanu-PF to harass and drive out opposition supporters, especially from rural areas.

'Regrettable' decisions

Mr Holmes told reporters at UN headquarters in New York he had briefed the council on "a very worrying and very serious and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, with up to four million people in need of humanitarian assistance".

He said about a quarter of the country's needs were likely to be met by the forthcoming harvest.

We have information that the humanitarian food was distributed... at a government party rally
Gonzalo Gallegos
US state department spokesman

He added that the Zimbabwe's decision earlier this month to suspend field operations by non-governmental organisations was "particularly regrettable".

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the Security Council should quickly address the Zimbabwe crisis "to prevent further deterioration of the region's humanitarian and security situation".

She was speaking hours after the secretary-general of the MDC, Tendai Biti, was arrested in Harare on his return from South Africa.

Mr Tsvangirai was also briefly detained twice as he campaigned on Thursday.

The opposition, human rights groups and some Western governments accuse Mr Mugabe's supporters of running a campaign of violence and intimidation against supporters of the MDC.

Treason investigation

National police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said Mr Biti would be charged with treason "for publishing a document that was explaining a transitional strategy around March 26".

Tendai Biti speaking in Nairobi, Kenya, 19 May 2008
Tendai Biti was arrested on his return to Zimbabwe

He said he would also be charged for proclaiming victory in the 29 March elections before official results were published.

"For the treason charge he faces the death penalty or life in prison," he said.

Zimbabwe's deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC's Focus on Africa that Mr Biti would appear in court soon.

The US ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, said Washington was "very concerned" about the treason charge against Mr Biti.

He said he had seen the document the charge was based on, and described it as a routine policy plan of the kind any political party would write ahead of an election.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that without credible charges having been laid against Mr Biti, "we can only assume his arrest is part of the pattern of ongoing harassment intended to disrupt lawful campaigning ahead of the election".

'Military junta'

Mr Tsvangirai was also detained twice on Thursday - the first time at a roadblock near the central town of Kwekwe on the way to an election rally.

Robert Mugabe/Zanu-PF election poster in Harare - 3/6/2008
Robert Mugabe's party stands accused of misusing humanitarian aid

He was released after two hours only to be picked up later by a different group of police officers and detained for several hours. He has now been held four times this month.

"It's just harassment, but we will be continuing with our campaign tomorrow," said Mr Tsvangirai's spokesman George Sibotshiwe, who was arrested with the MDC leader.

Meanwhile, a lorry of American food aid being delivered to schoolchildren was seized last week, US officials said.

"We have information that the humanitarian food was then distributed to government party members at a government party rally," US state department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said.

Mr Tsvangirai said this week that Zimbabwe was "effectively being run by a military junta".

He said more than 60 opposition supporters had been killed in political violence since the March elections and 200 more were unaccounted for.

Mr Mugabe's supporters say the scale of the violence has been exaggerated and blame the MDC for some attacks.

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