- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

NEW YORK | The United States and Britain on Thursday pressed the United Nations to take up the issue of political repression in Zimbabwe after police beat up a U.S. Embassy staffer and briefly detained U.S. and British diplomats.

U.S. officials in New York and Washington expressed outrage, saying the incident violates international conventions protecting foreign diplomats.

“While this incident has been resolved it won’t be forgotten,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters in Washington.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that Washington would not immediately retaliate, citing an upcoming presidential runoff election pitting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

“We are cognizant of the fact, though, that there is going to be a runoff in Zimbabwe,” Miss Rice said. “We need our diplomats to be able to try and help the international community and the African states assure some modicum of civility in those elections and some modicum of fairness in those elections. And so I think it’s important that we maintain a presence there and that we be able to do our work on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, who I believe desperately want to have a free and fair election runoff.”

A four-vehicle convoy of vehicles was returning to the capital, Harare, after attending a demonstration by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Party Thursday, when police stopped them. They drove on and were chased to a makeshift roadblock, where three dozen armed police and civilians slashed their tires and threatened to burn the Westerners. A Zimbabwean embassy driver was beaten.

“Zimbabwe has become a lawless country,” Ambassador James McGee told Bloomberg News. “It doesn’t obey its own laws or international laws.”

He added, “We believe this is part of a coordinated plan to intimidate us, to prevent us from witnessing what is happening in this country. That won’t work.”

It was the second time in less than two months the government harassed Mr. McGee.

In New York Thursday, the U.S. and British ambassadors took the matter to the U.N. Security Council, where U.S. representative Zalmay Khalilzad said he hoped other nations “will share our outrage.”

After brief consultations, however, the matter was put aside without a public statement.

“The council expressed concern about the reports and also urged respect for the Vienna Convention, in particular, the protection of diplomats and property,” said U.S. political affairs counselor Jeffrey A. Delaurentis.

He said some delegations wanted additional information on the incident and the council would review the harassment again “in the next few days.”

Some council members - particularly Russia, China, South Africa and Vietnam - have been wary of taking Zimbabwe into their portfolio, saying its problems are strictly domestic and do not threaten international security. However, Washington and London have been trying to press the issue by saying its instability has regional implications.

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