US, British diplomats detained, threatened in Zimbabwe

June 6th, 2008 - 12:59 am ICT by IANS  

Harare, June 5 (DPA) A group of US and British diplomats investigating reports of violence in Zimbabwe were detained Thursday by armed police, soldiers and ruling party militiamen who threatened to assault them and burn their vehicles. The two vehicles with diplomatic licence plates, one carrying three American diplomats and a Zimbabwean driver, the other with a similar number of British officials, were still in “a stand-off” at about 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), nearly five hours after the incident began, diplomatic sources said.

The Zimbabwean driver was forced out of his vehicle and assaulted, but was unlikely to need medical attention, the source said. The American vehicle had its tyres slashed.

The incident is the second time since May 13 that Zimbabwe security forces have detained Western diplomats touring trouble spots to investigate charges of a wave of violence being carried out against supporters of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The vehicles were on their way back to Harare after visiting the Bindura area about 80 km north-east of Harare and were halted at a roadblock about 60 km from Harare, close to the scene of last month’s incident.

“Police stopped them. Then war veterans and soldiers arrived, carrying arms. They were brandishing weapons and shouting at the party that they were trying to ‘carry out regime change’ against Mugabe.”

“The driver of the American vehicle was pulled out and slapped around. They threatened to beat the diplomats and to burn their vehicles.”

The vehicles’ path was blocked by a trap of spikes, and armed men slashed the American vehicle’s tyres.

After the initial confrontation, the Zimbabwean security men stopped harassing the diplomats, but refused to allow them to leave.

US Ambassador James McGee contacted the Zimbabwe foreign ministry, who assured him ministry representatives were being sent to mediate.

The sources said the foreign ministry was notified, in terms of official regulations, that the party was travelling beyond the 40 km radius of Harare.

Speaking to CNN, McGee vowed “a very very strong response”.

“Zimbabwe has become a lawless country,” he told CNN by telephone, decrying the actions by the police and war veterans as “grossly illegal”.

Mugabe, who is campaigning for his sixth term as leader in a presidential run-off against Tsvangirai, has recently upped his anti-British and American rhetoric, threatening to expel McGee for supporting the MDC.

The run-off June 27 was called for after Tsvangirai, while topping the poll, failed to deliver a knockout blow to Mugabe in the first round of voting March 29, according to the official results.

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