AUSTRALIA LIFTS BAN ON ZIM AID

MELBOURNE - Australia ended a long-standing ban on non-humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe yesterday, saying it wanted to help Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai relieve the suffering of his nation's people.

MELBOURNE - Australia ended a long-standing ban on non-humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe yesterday, saying it wanted to help Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai relieve the suffering of his nation's people.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia would provide about R65million for the Zimbabwe government to restore basic water, sanitation and health services.

"Australia's assistance to Zimbabwe to date has been limited to humanitarian aid," Smith said.

"The government plans to expand Australian assistance to support efforts by Tsvangirai and his ministers to bring sustainable and long-term improvements to the lives of Zimbabweans.

"The government recognises there are some risks to this approach. We are under no illusions about the fragility of the political situation in Zimbabwe."

He said about R50million would be spent through the United Nations Children's Fund on providing water treatment chemicals in an attempt to curb a cholera epidemic.

The other R25million will be used to pay health workers and nursing staff struggling "as a result of the country's economic and social collapse and the unreliability of salary payments from the Mugabe government".

"Australia's funding will assist their return to work in hospitals and healthcare centres around the country," Smith said.

Australia had repeatedly called on Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe to step down, imposing financial sanctions and travel bans on members of his regime, prohibiting arms sales and cutting defence and ministerial links. - Sapa-AFP

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