US protests 'harassment' of its top Zimbabwe diplomat
Ambassador McGee and diplomats from the Netherlands, Britain, Tanzania, Japan and the European Union were travelling in a 13-vehicle convoy when they were intercepted in the Glendale area on their way back to the capital Harare from a “fact finding mission".
At least 10 journalists and a lawyer were also caught up in the stand-off, which started when the convoy was pulled over at 1230hrs and ended at 1350hrs when they were allowed to continue their journey.
The stop was the third on the trip, our correspondent travelling with the diplomats said. The other two had been brief, including an incident where police blocked their entry to a hospital and McGee personally pushed open the gates and waved the cars through.
The United States condemned the Zimbabwe government, saying the stops amounted to "harassment".
"I guess it is harassment," said McCormack of the questioning of the diplomats.
"If on two occasions you're held up for nearly two hours and questioned about what you're doing, by security officials, then, yeah, that's harassment. Sure. If you have foreign diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe who are facing this kind of treatment, you can only imagine for Zimbabwean citizens what life is like if they make an effort to speak up, to voice their opinions," he added.
While they were questioned, McCormack said none of the diplomats were physically harmed and nothing had been confiscated by the security officials.
In Harare, Paul Engelstad, the US embassy spokesman said the police wanted to ask McGee questions about photos the group had taken.
The police "never said they were going to arrest him," he said.
The diplomats visited two hospitals and an alleged torture camp said to be used by killer squads loyal to President Robert Mugabe.
Speaking by telephone during the hold-up, our correspondent said: “We are just sitting in the car clueless on what happens next. We accompanied the diplomats on a tour of Mashonaland Central and visited a torture camp run by war veterans and two hospitals where scores of victims are admitted."
Things got heated at some point when Ambassador McGee was caught in an "ugly" altercation with the police officers, one of them in plain clothes.
On Monday, McGee fired off a letter to the state-run Herald newspaper in which he said there was undeniable evidence that Mugabe's Zanu PF party was driving a systematic campaign of violence intended to intimidate opposition supporters before a runoff presidential election.
The Herald published the letter alongside an unsigned editorial rebuking his views. The paper blasted McGee, accusing him of "very scandalous acts" and of breaching diplomatic procedure by speaking out on the violence that has riven Zimbabwe since its March 29 elections.
McGee said in his letter that, as a supporter of human rights, he felt compelled to speak out against "atrocities being committed across Zimbabwe," and he vowed to press for the prosecution of perpetrators of the violence.
Detailed evidence of torture, beatings and the burning of homes "paint a deeply disturbing picture of an organised campaign of violence against those who voted for the opposition" orchestrated at the highest level of Mugabe's party, the ambassador said.
"Until the violence stops, we will continue to work with local and international partners to help care for the wounded, feed the hungry and house the homeless. ... We will continue to gather evidence of the atrocities being committed so that the guilty can one day be brought to justice," he added.
Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says 25 of its supporters have been killed in post-election violence, and dozens more are fighting for their lives in hospitals across the country.
President Mugabe lost a first round of voting to the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai, and his Zanu PF party also lost its parliamentary majority. Tsvangirai and Mugabe will now go into a second round of voting after both failed to get the required 50 percent of the total vote to win outright.
Tsvangirai has been
holed up in neighbouring South Africa and says he fears for his life.
The US demanded Monday that the Zimbabwe government should give him
a security guarantee before he returns to fight the run-off, which election
officials say could be delayed by up to a year despite a legal provision
for it to be held 21-days from the day results are announced.
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