US and UK diplomats detained in Zimbabwe

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

United States and United Kingdom diplomatic staff were detained in Zimbabwe, according to US ambassador James D. McGee. They have now been released, say spokespeople from both the British and American embassies.

Ambassador McGee spoke in an interview on CNN: "Police put up a roadblock, stopped the vehicles, slashed the tires, reached in and grabbed telephones from my personnel, and the war veterans threatened to burn the vehicles with my people inside unless they got out and accompanied police to a station nearby."

Swedish ambassador Sten Rylander and US ambassador James D. McGee (center) visit a victim of political violence on May 9, 2008 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The ambassador said that the incident was a serious breach of diplomatic protocols. "We do believe this is coming directly from the top," he added.

A driver working for the US embassy was beaten up by the veterans, who are often used by the ZANU-PF (the ruling political party) to intimidate political opponents. They were also used as shock troops in the government's ouster of white farm owners.

Zimbabwe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the press that the diplomats were detained because they had tried to flee a roadblock and had refused to comply with police. He also refuted the claims that an embassy employee was beaten and that tires were slashed.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's official spokesman has said the Zimbabwean ambassador in London has been asked by the Foreign Office to explain what happened.

US Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe told reporters in Washington: "We are contacting the Zimbabwean authorities about the matter. It's completely unacceptable." He labeled the incident "outrageous."

Just yesterday, police temporarily detained opposistion leader Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC), who is running against President Robert Mugabe in a run-off election on June 27.

Tsvangirai resumed his campaign today. "Our resolve for a new beginning, and a new Zimbabwe remains unshaken," he said. "We are convinced of the justness of our cause, and we will not waver until we restore the dignity of all the people of Zimbabwe."