- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s foreign minister warned a group of Western diplomats yesterday that the government would not hesitate to expel them if they gave support to the opposition, and the U.S. ambassador walked out of the meeting, envoys said.

Foreign Minister Simearashe Mbengegwi told them that Western embassies had gone too far by offering food and water to opposition activists who were jailed last week.

President Robert Mugabe’s government is under increasing international criticism for its treatment of the opposition, with activists claiming police have disrupted their gatherings and beaten their leaders. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was among those reportedly assaulted when police broke up a March 11 prayer meeting.

Mr. Mbengegwi, who had summoned the envoys to a meeting, read a terse statement that said the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic behavior prohibited foreign ambassadors from involvement in the internal affairs of the host nation, and Zimbabwe would not hesitate to use that provision to expel them.

When Mr. Mbengegwi refused to respond to questions, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell walked out of the meeting, according to diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was closed.

Pressuring diplomats would make it harder for the international community to keep tabs on a government accused of repressing its people and ruining its economy. Over the weekend, Zimbabwe prevented opponents from leaving the country and has long severely restricted the press.

Earlier, Mr. Dell suggested there was a split in Zimbabwe’s security forces, with police reluctant to carry out a crackdown on the opposition and Mr. Mugabe relying on youth militias and agents from the feared Central Intelligence Organization.

Mr. Dell told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Mr. Mugabe last week spoke to the youth movement of his party and authorized it to use any means available against the opposition.

“What we believe is that we’re witnessing a major split inside the security forces, where the regular police, the real police, the professional police of Zimbabwe, are reluctant to carry out such orders, and therefore the regime is increasingly relying on youth militias and special agents from their Central Intelligence Organization, the CIO of Zimbabwe,” Mr. Dell said.

“And I’m certain that the people of Zimbabwe, when the time comes, will ultimately hold him accountable for comments like that and his responsibility … for unleashing this violence over the last week,” he said.

Also yesterday, government opponents said the family of an opposition militant killed by police was forced to bury him at their rural home because the administration feared demonstrations at a planned ceremony in the capital.

The government insisted that demonstrator Gift Tandare — killed as police disbanded the March 11 meeting organized by Zimbabwe’s political opposition — was buried in the countryside at the family’s request and that the state assisted with the funeral arrangements and expenses.

Members of the opposition said the Tandare family was coerced by CIO agents into holding the funeral in the Mount Darwin district, 95 miles northeast of Harare.

Nelson Chamisa, an aide to Mr. Tsvangirai, was assaulted at Harare International Airport by state agents using iron bars on Sunday as he was leaving to attend a meeting in Brussels, members of Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said.

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