THE Zimbabwe government expelled the Libyan ambassador and his staff on Tuesday for switching allegiance to Libya's ruling interim council, the foreign minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said.
President Robert Mugabe is a strong ally of deposed Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who had signed several economic deals with Harare, including an agreement to supply fuel.
Mumbengegwi, a minister from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in a fragile coalition with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said ambassador Taher Elmagrahi and his staff had lost their diplomatic status after burning the flag used by the Gaddafi administration.
"The government of Zimbabwe does not recognise the NTC as the government and representative of the people of Libya," Mumbengegwi told journalists, referring to Libya's National Transitional Council.
"Once you renounce the authority that gave you the letter of credence and then proceed to pledge allegiance to another authority ... it means that act deprives you of your diplomatic standing."
Mumbengegwi said the ambassador and his staff had 72 hours to leave the country.
He added that Zimbabwe reserved the right to reject diplomats from Tripoli in future and refused to comment on whether Harare was prepared to give asylum to Gaddafi or members of his family.
Elmagrahi, staff from the Libyan embassy and some Libyan nationals in Harare last week burned the flag used by Gaddafi's ousted government and hoisted the one used by the NTC.
Muammar Gaddafi has been on the run since his foes captured his Tripoli compound on August 23 and his 42-year-old rule collapsed after a six-month uprising backed by NATO and some Arab states.