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'Zimbabwe expels senior UN rights official'

Zimbabwe expels senior UN human rights official in the run-up to bitterly contested elections.

world Updated: Jun 18, 2008 16:21 IST

Zimbabwe has expelled a senior UN human rights official in the run-up to bitterly contested elections, the world body's human rights commissioner Louise Arbour said on Wednesday.

The desk officer travelled to Zimbabwe on Sunday but was expelled on Tuesday, said Arbour, who denounced the move by Harare as "uncooperative" and "untimely".

"This is a particularly untimely position taken by the government," said Arbour, who steps down from her post as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the end of this month.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is seeking to topple President Robert Mugabe's 28-year rule of Zimbabwe in the June 27 run-off but many observers fear growing violence will prevent free and fair elections.

The Zimbabwe government said on Wednesday that it will screen local election observers to ensure they have "no pre-conceived ideas" about the vote.

"We are going to assess the status in respect to their independence and neutrality," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was quoted as saying by the state-owned Herald newspaper.

An independent monitoring agency, one of a handful of local groups authorised to observe the elections, has said some of its observers were now too afraid to monitor the upcoming poll due to fears for their security.