The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has rejected charges that it ‘honoured’ Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe at a ceremony last week.
Mugabe attended the ceremony at the Victoria Falls on May 29 along with Zambia’s President Sata and UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai.
The Daily Mail and other newspapers reported the UNWTO had appointed Mugabe a tourism ‘ambassador’.
MPs of both major UK parties condemned the organisation for ‘honouring a tyrant’, who is banned from travel to many parts of the world including the US and Europe.
Canada announced its withdrawal from the UNWTO, with foreign affairs minister John Baird saying the event had ‘legitimised’ Mugabe.
However, the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper reported the country signalled its intention to quit the UNWTO a year ago.
But Rifai told Travel Weekly: “The reports are unfounded. The fact is we don’t have an ambassador title. We granted no title. There is no basis for the story.
He said: “The UNWTO sent a letter to all heads of state asking them to be leaders of tourism. Everyone received it. As a UN agency we sent it to every head of state.”
Rifai explained: “The UNWTO general assembly voted last October in Korea for the next assembly to be held in Victoria Falls. It was supported by the entire African bloc.
“I went to Victoria Falls to sign the agreement to host the assembly. Mugabe was at the signing ceremony. To say that the UNWTO granted the status of ambassador to Mugabe is not true.”
He added: “As a UN organisation we have an obligation to the people of these countries [Zambia and Zimbabwe]. Africa needs a break.
“We implemented a decision of 160 countries which decided to hold the general assembly in Victoria Falls. We are happy the assembly will be in Africa.”
Rifai was in London to address a Hospitality and Tourism Summit organised by the British Hospitality Association (BHA)
He said: “The question is do we encourage tourism around the world, or do we not? It brings jobs and prosperity.”
The UNWTO and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) told the summit they had issued a joint letter to the world’s heads of state.
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