United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell walked out of a briefing with Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi after the minister refused to give an assurance that diplomats would be allowed to ask questions after the briefing.
The briefing was held at the height of arrests and beatings of Movement for Democratic Change senior officials including party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and youth chairman Nelson Chamisa.
Dell had requested assurances that he and other diplomats should be able to ask questions and express their concerns about current events. He also expressed dismay that what had been billed as a diplomatic briefing was being turned into a one-sided press conference with television cameras.
When Mumbengegwi refused to give the assurances, Dell departed saying he was not prepared to participate in such a sham.
Viewing cable 07HARARE226, AMBASSADOR DELL WALKS OUT ON GOZ FOREIGN
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E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR DELL WALKS OUT ON GOZ FOREIGN
MINISTER’S SET PIECE ADMONISHING WESTERN DIPLOMATS
REF: HARARE 218 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section
¶1. (U) GOZ Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi summoned
Western diplomats March 12 for a “briefing” on the current
situation. Before the briefing began, Ambassador Dell sought
assurances that the minister would give diplomats the
opportunity to respond and express their concerns. When he
did not receive these assurances, he departed. Mumbengegwi
read a prepared statement and then adjourned the gathering
without answering questions. In his statement, he accused
the MDC of unlawful and violent activity, failed to discuss
beatings of opposition leaders and activists, and without
naming names, accused Western ambassadors of “complicity” in
MDC violence. He threatened to declare persona non grata
diplomats who violated Zimbabwe’s laws or interfered in its
internal affairs. End Summary.
Ambassador Walks Out
¶2. (U) The MFA on March 19 summoned Western diplomats for a
briefing by Foreign Minister Mumbengegwi on the current
situation in Zimbabwe in light of the violent events of the
past week. Mumbengegwi had briefed African and Non-Aligned
Movement diplomats on March 16. The briefing was covered by
State-controlled media and will doubtless feature prominently
on ZBC tonight.
¶3. (U) Before the briefing began, Ambassador Dell requested
assurances that he and other diplomats would be able to ask
questions and express their concerns about current events.
He also expressed dismay that what had been billed as a
diplomatic briefing was being turned into a one-sided press
conference with television cameras. When MFA officials
refused to give such assurances, the Ambassador departed,
saying he was not prepared to participate in such a sham.
Polecon chief remained as notetaker.
Events According to Mumbengegwi
¶4. (U) Mumbengegwi began by averring that for over a year
the MDC had planned a campaign of lawlessness and violence
and had set up country-wide networks to attack law
enforcement and render the country ungovernable. MDC leaders
had announced they would not respect the rule of law and had
chosen the platform of the international media to make
seditious statements aimed at world capitals. Despite all
this, he continued, the GOZ did not take actions; Zimbabwe
might be the only country in the world as tolerant.
¶5. (U) Mumbengegwi discussed several opposition rallies in
February which he claimed the GOZ had authorized, and in
which opposition leaders had advocated mass action and
lawlessness. Turning to March 11, he stated police refused
to grant a permit for a rally in light of MDC rhetoric during
HARARE 00000226 002 OF 003
the previous month and the increasing threat of violence.
The MDC and other opposition leaders sought to contravene the
police by denominating the protest a prayer meeting.
¶6. (U) Mumbengegwi alleged that on March 11 over 200
opposition supporters used children as shields and attacked
police with tear gas and other weapons. They also vandalized
a police checkpoint. At one point, police fired 18 warning
shots and then in self-defence shot a student ringleader.
(Note. Presumably Gift Tandare. End Note.) He also alleged
that on two different occasions (he did not specify dates)
MDC youths threw petrol bombs at police. In the second
incident three officers were injured.
¶7. (U) Mumbengegwi stated MDC leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and
Arthur Mutambara along with National Constitutional Assembly
leader Lovemore Mahduku were arrested for inciting violence.
He did not mention the arrests of others or the beatings they
endured while in police custody. Nor did he mention this
past weekend’s events, including the assault on MDC
spokesperson Nelson Chamisa, seized at the airport while
waiting to board a flight to South Africa (septel).
GOZ’s Veiled Threat to Western Diplomats
¶8. (U) Without naming names, Mumbengegwi attacked Western
diplomats, accusing them of “feverish” support for the MDC
and “complicity in an orgy of violence.” He said they
considered themselves self-appointed guardians of democracy
and law and order, but had condoned and supported the MDC
factions in planning and executing violence.
¶9. (U) Stating that eight ambassadors had visited police
stations on March 11 to provide food and water, and had had
“the nerve” to instruct police to bring detainees to court,
Mumbengegwi stated that Zimbabwe was a sovereign state, not
subject to outside influence, and diplomats seeking access to
GOZ officials must go through the MFA. He also stated that
the same ambassadors had inappropriately observed proceedings
when detainees were brought to court.
¶10. (U) Mumbengegwi concluded by stating that Zimbabwe did
not require instruction from former colonial masters and that
any attempts to re-colonize it would be resisted. Citing the
Vienna Convention, he said that ambassadors must desist from
interference in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs and obey the law.
If they did not, they would be declared persona non grata.
He then left the room without allowing for any questions or
responses from the diplomats.
¶11. (SBU) Clearly stung by intense international focus on
Zimbabwe over the past week, Mumbengegwi’ “briefing” was a
feeble rant aimed at blaming the opposition and Western
diplomats for the violence of the past 10 days. It had a
surreal quality, as diplomats sat around a table listening to
Mumbengegwi’s warped version of reality which completely
exonerated the GOZ for any wrongdoing, and were admonished
that Zimbabwe would expel diplomats who did not behave (not
the first time the GOZ has made such a threat and likely not
the last). In the end, he succeeded only in convincing the
HARARE 00000226 003 OF 003
assembled diplomats that the GOZ is acting out of fear, and
that it is very conscious of the international disapproval it