Zim rights groups face closure

Harare - President Robert Mugabe's government plans to ban international human rights groups from Zimbabwe and cut off overseas funding to local organisations promoting rights, according to a draft bill obtained on Friday.

The bill would also set up a council whose members would be appointed by Zimbabwe's social welfare minister to oversee the activities of foreign and local aid groups.

"No foreign non-governmental organisation shall be registered if its sole or principal objects involve or include issues of governance," according to the draft.

The document defined "issues of governance" as "the promotion and protection of human rights and political governance issues".

Zimbabwe has repeatedly threatened to clamp down on the activities of some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which it has accused of meddling in its internal affairs.

Mugabe told parliament earlier this week that Zimbabwe must not allow non-governmental organisations "to be conduits or instruments of foreign interference in our national affairs."

The leader confirmed that a bill tightening control over the NGOs would be introduced in parliament during the current session, which is the last one ahead of crunch parliamentary polls due in March.

The move comes amid concerns of political violence in the runup to the elections and accusations from one of Mugabe's most outspoken critics, Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, that the ruling party will use food to buy votes.

More than five million people in Zimbabwe will need food aid this year, according to UN aid agencies.

In the past, Mugabe has accused some NGOs here of being "trojan horses" that received money from abroad "to be used against us".

Under the bill, local non-governmental organisations involved in human rights and political work will not be able to receive funds from abroad.

Observers say that the proposed regulations are similar to strict press laws introduced two years ago that led to the creation of the Media and Information Commission (MIC).

The commission has shut down three private Zimbabwean newspapers in the past year.

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