By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has withdrawn a request for money from the United Nations to fund elections expected this year after refusing to accept its conditions, including over media reforms and security issues, a minister from President Robert Mugabe's party said.
The comments, which came days after Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Zimbabwe could not afford to fund the vote, could undermine the credibility of the polls in the country which has a history of election violence.
The U.N. assistance was expected to be about $132 million. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the state-owned Herald newspaper that the United Nations wanted to interfere in local politics by attaching conditions to funding.
"It was clear that the (U.N.) team wanted a broader mandate ... They kept talking about the security sector and media reforms, all sorts of euphemisms ... and that we reject," he said in comments reported on Wednesday.
"We remain alert to any attempts to manipulate, infiltrate and interfere with our internal processes and we are happy we have parted ways with them," he said. "The U.N. avenue for sourcing resources for the election is now closed."
It was not clear what reforms the United Nations sought, but Mugabe's critics say his ZANU-PF party maintains tight control on state media and has stalled a program to introduce private television and radio stations in the country.
The president's rivals also say he has used the security forces to crack down on the opposition, including breaking up their meetings.
Mugabe denies these accusations, saying they are part of a smear campaign by his political rivals and Western powers.
The U.N. chief representative in Harare, Alain Noudehou, said the U.N. conditions followed standard guidelines.
"It became apparent that there were different expectations on the modalities of the needs assessment mission," Noudehou said in a statement.
Veteran ruler Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing deal four years ago with his arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, after bloody and disputed elections in 2008.
Zimbabweans voted overwhelmingly in a March 16 referendum for a new constitution that would curb presidential powers, paving the way for elections later this year.
Western countries want to place observers in the southern African country for the election in an attempt to help prevent a recurrence of the 2008 violence when hundreds of thousands fled across the border with South Africa seeking safety.
Mugabe's party, some of whose members have been hit with international sanctions for suspected human rights abuses and alleged ballot-box stuffing, has pushed to keep observers out.
Zimbabwe's economy has been on the mend since Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed to share power but is still suffering a hangover from a decade-long recession.
Finance Minister Biti, a member of the Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, has sought foreign funding for the elections which have an initial budget of $132 million, saying the state's coffers were near empty.
This week, he said that South Africa approved a $100 million loan for budgetary support. Pretoria has not confirmed the loan, saying only that talks were ongoing.
"It is self-evident that Treasury has no capacity to fund elections," Biti said.
Zimbabwe marks 33 years of independence from former colonial power Britain on Thursday and Mugabe, who is 89 and the only leader the country has known, will give the main speech at celebrations in the capital.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Pravin Char)