An envoy for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived in Zimbabwe Sunday to investigate a government-sponsored campaign that has destroyed the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans.
Hours before the arrival of Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of the U.N. program on sustainable housing , a state-run newspaper reported that the government was finishing the campaign, dubbed Operation Murambatsvina, or "drive out trash."
The Sunday Mail report was dismissed by the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. A party spokesman, Paul Themba Nyathi, said the destruction of shantytowns continued unabated over the weekend in the southern border town of Beitbridge.
Since the campaign was launched May 19, police have burned and bulldozed tens of thousands of shacks, street stalls and vegetable gardens planted by the urban poor at a time of acute food shortages. Estimates of the number affected range between 300,000 and 1.5 million people.
President Robert Mugabe says the campaign is necessary to fight crime and maintain health standards in Zimbabwe's cities. But the opposition, which has its strongholds among the urban poor, says the blitz is intended to punish its supporters, who voted against the government in recent parliamentary elections.
Mugabe told his party he had agreed to meet with Annan's envoy "so as to enable the secretary general to understand and appreciate what we are trying to do."
Tibaijuka was expected to meet with Mugabe early in the week, U.N. spokeswoman Katherine Anderson said. She will also tour towns and cities where the operation is taking place. Her visit is expected to last several days, Anderson said. Also on the agenda are meetings with legislators, including the opposition, church leaders and others who have been helping those affected.
The government's campaign -- in which 42,000 people have been arrested, fined or had their goods confiscated -- has provoked an international outcry.
The independent Standard newspaper reported Sunday that at least six people have been killed. They include two children crushed under collapsing walls, two more children and a woman who died of pneumonia after being left exposed to the winter cold, and a man who committed suicide. About 300,000 children have been forced to quit school after they were driven from their homes, the paper said.