US denies involvement in Pemba chaos

By The Guardian Reporter

The United States yesterday denied being a party to the chaos that has for weeks now dogged the issuance of Zanzibar residence identity cards on Pemba Island, a condition for Zanzibaris to register as voters.

The spokesperson for the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Dr Ilya Levin, brushed off suggestions linking the recent US travel alert on Pemba to the commotion associated with the issuance of IDs and the voter registration exercise.

“We call for restraint on all sides and for fair elections in 2010, held in a climate of civility and security,” said Levin in a statement to The Guardian.

In the statement, issued in response to foul play claims by a Zanzibar minister on Tuesday, Dr Levin warned that any political instability in Zanzibar stood to damage the international reputation of Tanzania as a whole.

A Zanzibar cabinet minister was quoted on Tuesday as having associated the US and unnamed other members of the donor community with the commotion linked to perceived pervasive anomalies in the registration of voters in Pemba.

Hamza Hassan Juma, Minister of State in the Zanzibar Chief Minister’s Office, said the ongoing defiance and rumpus had the tacit backing of the US and other powerful members of the donor community.

He buttressed his comments by citing the recent alert by Washington cautioning US citizens against visiting the Isles.

However, in yesterday’s statement to this paper, Dr Levin noted: “We can only reiterate that the travel alert by the US Department of State for American citizens contemplating travel to Zanzibar was issued because the United States has an obligation to protect its citizens.”

The issuance of the residence IDs and the registration of voters limped on for the fifth day yesterday, according to reports from Pemba, where police fired live bullets in the air and teargas on Monday to disperse crowds in an effort to bolster security.

Sporadic attacks continued at Sizini Village in Micheweni District, Pemba North Region, with minister Juma himself witnessing a house being set ablaze.

Sources close to the incident attributed the fire to teargas canisters dropped by riot police on top of the roof of the house, whose owner could not be immediately established.

Two other houses were torched on Monday night by unidentified people at Kambini Kichokochwe Village, widely believed to be a stronghold of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF).

The US government last month issued “advice” warning its citizens against travelling to Zanzibar, where it said security was “fragile and not favourable to Americans”.

The move came only days after Zanzibar had halted the voter registration exercise after persistent claims that CUF members were being denied an opportunity to register for the mandatory Zanzibar citizenship IDs.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN

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