AusAID closes office

Australia closed the offices of its overseas aid programme Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) in Zimbabwe on Friday, moving its operations to Pretoria, South Africa.

Counsellor for development, Nona Bennett, told IRIN the move followed Australia's decision in October last year to impose smart sanctions on Zimbabwe due to concerns over alleged human rights abuses.

The sanctions included a travel ban to Australia by Zimbabwean ministers and a freeze on their assets, the suspension of non-humanitarian aid, prohibition of defence sales and suspension of all defence links, the down-grading of cultural links and the suspension of bilateral ministerial contact.

A statement issued by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer at the time said: "The measures I am announcing today are designed to influence the current government to return to good governance and the rule of law, while avoiding harm to the people of Zimbabwe.

As the sixth largest donor to the World Food Programme, which is currently providing much of the food needed to tide many Zimbabweans over critical shortages, AusAID would continue with current humanitarian programmes through other NGOs and assess new programmes from the Pretoria office, Bennett said.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard was a member of a troika of Commonwealth leaders which in 2002 decided to suspend Zimbabwe from the organisation.