Saturday, November 24, 2001

HARARE, Zimbabwe Correspondents for foreign media who reported indiscriminate beatings of whites a week ago will be treated as terrorists, a presidential spokesman warned yesterday.
The statement appeared in the state-owned Herald newspaper on the same day a European Union delegation said embattled President Robert Mugabe heatedly rejected EU demands for international observers at elections that are supposed to be held by early next year.
Mr. Mugabe’s government is being strongly criticized over alleged human rights abuses and a crackdown on the opposition that have escalated since ruling party militants began violent occupations of white-owned farms in March 2000. The 15-nation EU is considering sanctions.
With the economy near collapse, Mr. Mugabe’s popularity has plummeted, and Western diplomats and political analysts have speculated he is trying to engineer a chaotic situation that would allow him to declare a state of emergency and toughen his crackdown before elections.
The presidential spokesman, who was not identified by name, said a protest letter from U.S. Ambassador Joseph Sullivan about Nov. 16 violence in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second biggest city, was “likely to trigger a diplomatic furor.” He said it was based on “gross and obscene misrepresentation of facts by the so-called foreign correspondents.”
Western diplomats confirmed that ruling party militants assaulted whites and vendors of independent newspapers in Bulawayo. One German aid worker was beaten in front of his children, they said.
Witnesses reported that militants threw firebombs at the offices of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in downtown Bulawayo and then stoned fire trucks when they arrived. State media said the MDC burned its own offices, allegedly to destroy evidence of involvement in the murder of a militant leader.
The presidential spokesman’s criticism singled out journalists from The Associated Press, Business Day of South Africa and the British newspapers The Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph and The Independent.
“It is now an open secret that these reporters are not only distorting the facts but are assisting terrorists who stand accused in our courts of law of abduction, torture and murder, by covering up and misrepresenting the brutal deeds of terrorists,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.
“As for the correspondents, we would like them to know that we agree with U.S. President Bush that anyone who in any way finances, harbors or defends terrorists is himself a terrorist. We, too, will not make any difference between terrorists and their friends and supporters.”
The spokesman also contended that independent media in Zimbabwe had tried to intimidate journalists who work for state-controlled newspapers and broadcasters. “This kind of media terrorism will not be tolerated,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.
Journalists for independent media have been arrested and beaten by ruling party militants. Foreign journalists have been harassed, threatened, beaten and arrested by militants and security forces.
The U.S. Embassy had no comment on the spokesman’s remarks or on whether the ambassador had sent a protest letter. However, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a protest note had been delivered by U.S. officials in Washington to Zimbabwe’s embassy there.
“AP’s coverage of the violence in Zimbabwe and our coverage of moves by the government against political opponents and the press have been consistently factual, unbiased and fair,” AP spokeswoman Kelly Smith Tunney said in New York.
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, head of the EU delegation, described the 90-minute meeting with Mr. Mugabe on yesterday as stormy.
He said EU officials expressed concerns over the occupation of white-owned farms, attacks on press freedoms and the decision to ban international election monitors. Mr. Mugabe’s reaction to monitors was particularly strong, he said.
“We just put on the table the issue and there was a very brutal reaction,” Mr. Michel said. “We really didn’t have an opportunity to have a constructive exchange of views.”
There was no immediate comment from the government about the meeting.

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