|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
The action marked the first time the WFP halted food distributions in Zimbabwe, whose government has been accused of using food as a political tool against the opposition.
An estimated 6.7 million Zimbabweans, more than half the population, are in danger of starvation in the coming months.
Workers for the Organization of Rural Associations for Progress were distributing WFP corn to hungry families Thursday at Insiza, 350 miles southwest of Harare, when ruling party militants threatened them and seized more than three tons of the grain, the WFP said.
The militants then distributed the aid to "people who may not be intended beneficiaries," the U.N. agency said.
Insiza, the site of an upcoming by-election, has been racked by political violence in recent weeks. "Relief food distributions are not the place for any kind of political activity," said Kevin Farrell, WFP's country director in Zimbabwe. "WFP standing policy is to not tolerate the misuse of its resources for political ends," he said.
Government and ruling party officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said food aid had been used against the opposition for the past two weeks.
Officials, sometimes with compliance of aid workers, deliberately arranged food distributions near MDC rallies to lure away starving voters, he said. The opposition supporters were then forced to chant ruling party slogans and surrender opposition party cards before being given food.
Human rights workers have reported similar incidents in recent months as hunger spreads throughout the country.
Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, said last week that people across Zimbabwe told him the government had refused to sell grain in some areas considered hotbeds of opposition support.
The WFP has blamed the hunger in Zimbabwe on a devastating drought combined with the government's policy of seizing land from white commercial farmers and giving it to blacks, a policy that has badly damaged agriculture here. Government officials deny allegations their land redistribution plan has worsened the crisis.
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