Sweden: Zimbabwe must take responsibility

Sweden on Thursday urged President Robert Mugabe's government to mend fences with the West as it joined a UN humanitarian drive to help Zimbabweans.

The Swedish donation of five million dollars followed a United Nations appeal last year for humanitarian assistance to millions of Zimbabweans reeling from poverty, food shortages and galloping inflation.

“The Zimbabwean government has the ultimate responsibility for the humanitarian situation and long-term developments in Zimbabwe,” Swedish ambassador Sten Rylander told journalists.

“The government needs to start building bridges and regain the confidence and trust of the international community,” he said.

“Much more could be done to bring the country back to normal and pursue development policies that benefit the entire Zimbabwean population,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s relations with the West became strained after Mugabe’s government launched controversial land reforms six years ago, seizing farms from white commercial farmers for redistribution to landless blacks.

Ties worsened further when the United States and the European Union imposed targeted sanctions on Mugabe and members of his inner circle following the country’s 2002 presidential election dismissed by the opposition as a fraud.

UN resident co-ordinator Agostinho Zacarias said the donation from Sweden would be disbursed through UN agencies and aid groups to projects to feed the poor, pay school fees for AIDS orphans and launch self-help projects for jobless urban dwellers.

He said the United Nations had so far raised 20 percent of the intended 277 million dollars for humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of economic crises characterised by world-record inflation, worsening poverty levels, unemployment hovering over 70 percent and chronic shortages of basic goods like fuel and the staple corn meal.

At least four million of the country’s 13 million people will require food assistance until the next harvest in May, according to aid agencies.

“The scale of humanitarian needs in Zimbabwe is considerable and growing,” the Swedish envoy said. “The food security situation, the general decline in social services and the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are major causes of concern.”

Mugabe’s government has attributed food shortages to drought, denying that it was the result of its land reforms which saw agricultural productivity grinding to a near halt after some 4,000 white farmers were forcibly removed from their properties.

Mugabe also blames the country’s woes on western sanctions.