A confrontation in Zimbabwe

Police threaten envoy from US, rights observers

Ambassador James McGee was not injured by the vehicle. Ambassador James McGee was not injured by the vehicle.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Angus Shaw
Associated Press / May 14, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Police confronted diplomats seeking to investigate allegations of torture yesterday, halting their convoy at a roadblock on the edge of the capital. One officer threatened to hit the US ambassador with his car.

The US ambassador, James McGee, was not hurt. Police eventually let the convoy through, and a patrol car escorted the group back to the US Embassy before disappearing.

A United Nations official, meanwhile, warned that postelection violence in Zimbabwe is nearing crisis levels, and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said 32 supporters have been killed - including eight in the last 72 hours.

Tensions have been escalating in Zimbabwe since the March 29 parliamentary and presidential elections.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the presidential race outright, but official results released weeks after the poll showed he did not win enough votes to avoid a second round against President Robert Mugabe.

The opposition has accused the ruling ZANU-PF party of undertaking a campaign of intimidation and violence to pressure voters to cast ballots for Mugabe. Observers have questioned whether a second round would be free and fair with the opposition unable to campaign freely because of attacks and threats. No date for a runoff has been set.

The diplomats involved in the incident at a roadblock on the edge of the capital, Harare, had just completed a tour of hospitals and an alleged torture camp when police demanded they prove they had official permission to visit the sites.

At one point, a police officer threatened to beat one of McGee's senior aides. The officer got into his car and lurched toward McGee after he had demanded the officer's name. The car made contact with McGee's shins, but he was not injured.

McGee climbed onto the hood of the car while his aide snatched the keys from the ignition, then the diplomats used their mobile phone cameras to take photographs of the officer.

McGee insisted the convoy be allowed through and the 11 vehicles passed through after about an hour.

The confrontation was "a message to us, to try to control what we are doing," said US Embassy spokesman Paul Engelstad, who was among about 50 diplomats and journalists on the tour.

Japanese, EU, Dutch, and Tanzanian envoys and an Associated Press reporter also were in the convoy.

McGee noted that the government has denied repeated reports from opposition officials and human rights groups of government-orchestrated violence against the opposition.

"The government has said 'Present us with proof.' I think today we have done just that. We do have concrete proof of what is happening in the countryside and the government will have to listen," McGee said.

A priest in the northeast had led the diplomats to a lumber camp occupied by people described to reporters as ruling party militants. McGee said when he confronted them, they hid four notebooks with interrogation schedules.

The priest also led the diplomats to a church hospital where 22 people were being treated for beatings so severe that the flesh had been stripped from their backs. Doctors and nurses said one person had died at the hospital and another three died in nearby villages in the last month.

The UN resident representative in Zimbabwe, meanwhile, warned of escalating violence in both rural and urban areas.

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