Zimbabwe: two aid agencies banned from famine zone

 On the same day that there were reports of 'at least' two more deaths from starvation in western Zimbabwe, the UN confirmed that President Mugabe has banned two aid agencies from distributing food. Save the Children Fund and Oxfam were told on Tuesday to stop delivering food supplied by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other sources to the Binga district, where local elections recently threw out the ruling Zanu PF party. Hospital officials in Binga have confirmed that 29 people have died in recent months through malnutrition. "This is political obstruction of desperately needed food aid at a crucial point. If people do not get food now, many will die," said Tony Hall, US representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, after a three-day tour of Zimbabwe. "Government officials confirmed to me that they will not allow those non-governmental organisations to distribute food aid for political reasons, because the government views them as loyal to the opposition party. I said that is unacceptable. They are major international organisations with fine reputations for non-partisan activity." Mr Hall also said that he had "credible reports" that the Mugabe regime was "using state-owned food as a political weapon to punish communities suspected of supporting the opposition. I heard it over and over again, particularly about the Binga area." Binga, on Lake Kariba, is one of Zimbabwe's poorest areas and it has voted consistently for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Last month, it was the only rural area won by the MDC in local council elections. The WFP has asked the government to reconsider its ban. Ten other aid bodies have government accreditation to distribute WFP food. They are: Catholic Relief Services; Goal; Concern; Lutheran World Federation; Care International; Helpage; Plan International; Christian Care; World Vision; and Orap, a Zimbabwean group founded by a current cabinet minister. * The Daily News reported that at queue of more than 7,000 people waited patiently on Friday to buy maize meal at a grinding mill in Harare.

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