African Union refuses to comment on Mugabe's urban clearances

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The Independent Online

The African Union has defied calls from Britain and the US to condemn the Zimbabwean government's campaign of urban clearances which has left hundreds of thousands homeless.

An AU spokesman said the crackdown by President Robert Mugabe's regime on so-called illegal settlements was an "internal matter".

The European Commission President Jose Barroso yesterday joined the international criticism of "Operation Restore Order".

The division threatened a new rift between the West and African nations over how to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis, which critics blame on government mismanagement and a plan to give white-owned farms to landless blacks.

The Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube said the United Nations should arrest Mr Mugabe and put him on trial. He compared him to the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot whose reign of terror killed millions of people by forcing them from cities into the countryside - an act he said was being repeated in Zimbabwe.

Human rights groups say up to 300,000 people have been made homeless by this month's crackdown. At least two children have been crushed to death. Opponents claim the campaign has exacerbated an economic crisis, marked by severe food and fuel shortages, and 70 per cent unemployment.

Unicef, the UN children's charity, is stepping up operations to feed children affected by the evictions.

Mr Mugabe went on state television to defend the crackdown, saying the clearances would help fight crime and clean up cities.

The opposition says that the demolitions are meant to punish urban residents, who have rejected Mr Mugabe in recent elections.