Diplomatic ties between Zimbabwe and the United States came under further strain on Wednesday when authorities in Harare accused Washington’s envoy to South Africa of sneaking into the country.
While United States officials in both Harare and Pretoria denied the ambassador had made such a journey on Tuesday and said it appeared to be a case of mistaken identity, Zimbabwe’s state media said he had crossed over via the border with Botswana on “an undislosed mission”.
In a front-page story, the Herald newspaper said the “United States ambassador to South Africa Patrick Kelly Diskin sneaked into Zimbabwe through Plumtree border post Tuesday on an as yet undisclosed mission.
“Sources at the border said Diskin indicated he was visiting US ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee in Harare over confidential matters and stated he would be in the country for 14 days.”
The newspaper then printed the number of Diskin’s US diplomatic passport and the car registration number.
An unnamed government official said he was “interested” in discovering the reason for the visit.
“Whilst is is normal for ambassadors to visit each other, we find the timing and the route used very odd,” he told the paper.
However the US embassy in Pretoria dismissed the report and said the Herald had not even got the name of the ambassador right.
“Our ambassador is Eric Bost. He did not go to Zimbabwe yesterday,” an embassy spokesperson said.
The US embassy in Harare meanwhile issued a stastement saying that the man named by the Herald worked for the State Department’s United States Agency for International Development (USAid).
“He is a food for peace programme officer. He came on a routine visit to monitor the implementation of USAid food assistance programme in Zimbabwe,” said the statement.
“USAid contributes $1-million worth of food aid to Zimbabwe.”
The episode comes days after Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe threatened to expel McGee whom he accused of meddling in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.
“I am told he [McGee] says he fought in Vietnam,” Mugabe said on Sunday in a keynote speech at the launch of his campaign for a presidential election run-off against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai next month.
“Fighting in Vietnam does not give him the right to interfere in our domestic affairs. Tall as he is, if he continues doing that, I will kick him out.
“I am just waiting to see if he makes one more step wrong. He will get out. This is Zimbabwe, it is not an extension of America.”
Relations between the United States and Zimbabwe have been tense ever since Washington imposed sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle after he allegedly rigged his 2002 re-election.
The Herald was also the platform used by the government in April to accuse former colonial power Britain of working with Tsvangirai to topple the Mugabe regime, citing documents that London dismissed as a hoax. – AFP