Three reported killed in Zimbabwe crackdown

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Police targeted an illegal settlement west of Zimbabwe’s capital Thursday in the government’s six-week demolition and resettlement campaign, and as many as three people were reported dead.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said two women, one of them pregnant, died Thursday when they fell off the back of trucks ferrying them to a “transit camp” where thousands of displaced people are living in tents.

A 4-year-old boy was run over by a truck Thursday at the settlement, the group said.

Police were not immediately available to confirm the reports.

At least six others are reported to have died since the start of the campaign six weeks ago.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says Operation Murambatsvina – Drive Out Trash – is meant to drive its supporters among the urban poor into rural areas where the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front is dominant.

President Robert Mugabe’s government maintains the blitz is not political and already has reduced crime rates and restored order to overcrowded and chaotic city centers.

The three reported dead Thursday were from Porta Farm, an illegal settlement west of Harare that is the latest area to be targeted by police.

Anna Tibaijuka, a U.N. special envoy sent to investigate the humanitarian impact of the campaign, visited the site, but U.N. spokesman Sharad Shankardass declined to comment on what she had observed.

Tibaijuka, the Tanzanian head of U.N. Habitat, is on the fifth day of her visit to Zimbabwe.

The operation – which comes at the height of the southern African winter and during a widespread food shortage – has seen tens of thousands of illegal shanties, backyard cottages and houses destroyed, and between 300,000 and 1.5 million people left homeless.

The exercise has been condemned by many Western countries, including former colonial power Britain. Zimbabwean human rights groups, clerics, doctors and lawyers also have condemned the campaign.

On Wednesday, Tibaijuka met with Mugabe. The 81-year old head of state said after the meeting the police demolitions were a “temporary discomfort.”

“Obviously there is some degree of suffering when you break down a slum. Yes, there is discomfort now, but discomfort in order to get comfort later,” he said.

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