|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
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- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
From the Mail & Guardian (SA), 21 November
Zimbabwe and US in diplomatic spat
Harare - The Zimbabwe government has accused the US of breaching regulations by allowing some of its diplomatic staff to travel outside the capital without permission, a newspaper said on Thursday. Last week a party of four from the US embassy that included an American diplomat, a Zimbabwean embassy worker, plus a UN worker and their Zimbabwean guide were detained in a farming district north of Harare. The two Zimbabwean members of the group were beaten by war veterans, seen here as being loyal to President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party. The US government immediately protested the incident. "How do our people know that the people are genuine diplomats if they had not been notified," an unnamed foreign affairs official in Zimbabwe was quoted as saying in Thursday's edition of the state-controlled Herald newspaper. "The fact that they did not notify the ministry shows that there was something wrong with their visit," the official charged. Under regulations circulated to embassies in Harare in July, diplomats stationed in Harare have to give the government 48 hours notice if they want to travel more than 40 kilometres outside the capital, the paper said.
The US embassy in Harare said the four were on a field trip to assess the plight of farm workers displaced by a controversial land reform programme. The US on Wednesday accused Zimbabwe of violating diplomatic conventions. "The United States regards the unprovoked attack on our personnel as a serious breach of the Zimbabwe government's responsibility to safeguard diplomatic personnel in Zimbabwe," said deputy State Department representative Philip Reeker. Reeker said the incident contravened the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic protocol and hinted Washington might withdraw some personnel from Zimbabwe unless Harare responded to two previous complaints about it. "Their response will certainly be factored into our ongoing assessments of the safety of our personnel and of our diplomatic and humanitarian operations in Zimbabwe," he said. "The breach cannot be hidden behind Zimbabwe government's fabrication of a nonsensical story to justify the lawless actions of its supporters," he said, repeating two previous US demands for full explanation of the incident.
On Tuesday, the Herald said the pair - who were travelling with a local guide and a British UN worker - had sparked the incident by throwing food at farm workers. "They allegedly threw food from a moving vehicle to farm workers whom they then filmed as they jostled for the food," the paper reported, adding that the four "are alleged to have done this on three separate occasions." Reeker said the four had been on a fact-finding trip in the farming district of Melfort about 25 kilometres southeast of Harare, assessing the impact of food shortages when they were detained by self-described veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war against white minority rule. In addition to being held against their will, searched and then robbed, Reeker said the two Zimbabweans were severely beaten by the war veterans. War veterans are generally staunch supporters of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party. "The assertions that the Zimbabwean government has made in these press reports that embassy staff created and filmed a scramble for food among farm workers are complete fabrications, utterly without foundation, and clearly, once again, betray the cynicism of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe," he said.
Reeker noted that Harare had requested international assistance for the some 6,5-million Zimbabweans are now at risk of hunger and that the four people involved in Friday's incident were working to that end. "The visit was part of their normal work, fully consistent with the legitimate diplomatic and humanitarian activities permitted to diplomats under the Vienna Convention and in the best interests of the people of Zimbabwe," he said. The Herald quoted Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Moyo as saying the incident was "rooted in intrusive and interventionist behaviour by some US embassy personnel who have been trespassing onto some farms under the guise of looking for alleged displaced farm workers." US officials have growing increasingly critical of Mugabe since he was won re-election earlier this year in a vote widely decried as flawed and have frequently blamed his government for policies that have exacerbated the food shortage. "The food crisis in Zimbabwe is primarily the result of the Zimbabwean government's political and economic policies," Reeker he said on Tuesday. He repeated allegations that Mugabe's government was channelling food assistance to its political supporters. "There's a real crisis there, and to see the Zimbabwean government acting in this manner is quite appalling," he said.