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Andrew Meldrum in Harare
Wednesday November 20, 2002
The Guardian UK
The diplomatic dispute between the United States and Zimbabwe has deepened after an employee of the American embassy in Harare was beaten by war veterans loyal to President Robert Mugabe.
The Zimbabwean employee was on an aid mission with a group which included another embassy employee who was an American citizen, and a United Nations official.
The team was studying how to help the former farm workers displaced by Mr Mugabe's land seizures who were "subsisting on a diet of berries and termites", according to a statement from the US government.
The embassy said that the UN official, the American, the Zimbabwean employee and another Zimbabwean citizen travelling with them were forcibly held and interrogated. The Zimbabweans were also beaten, it added.
In an unusually strong statement, the US government said the incident was "symptomatic of the lawlessness that has affected Zimbabwe" for the last two-and-a-half years. "It is the same sort of intimidation and violence suffered by thousands of Zimbabweans since the rule of law was effectively suspended," it added.
The Americans called for "swift action to identify and arrest the perpetrators".
"We call once again on the government of Zimbabwe to restore the rule of law."
The incident comes a week after Zimbabwean police shot dead an American university lecturer at a roadblock in mysterious circumstances.
The American was questioned about the papers on his rental car. He drove 12 miles to get his passport and then returned to the roadblock where he was shot and killed.
Zimbabwe's information minister, Jonathan Moyo, said that the beating of the embassy worker was the result of "interventionist behaviour by some US embassy personnel who have been trespassing on to some farms under the guise of looking for alleged displaced farm workers".
"There are no displaced farm workers in Zimbabwe and the embassy knows that," he said. Mr Moyo dismissed the charge of lawlessness as "quite preposterous".
"Everyone knows that the US is the citadel of mafia conduct and racist vigilante groups. When will America restore its rule of law by controlling the mafia and the Ku Klux Klan?" he added.
The official newspaper, the Herald, said yesterday that the two embassy employees were part of a group that staged and filmed a scramble for food among farm workers.
It said the embassy group was detained after allegedly throwing food from a moving vehicle to farm workers, who were then filmed as they jostled for the handouts. A loaded camera and two computer disks were reportedly confiscated from the group.
Earlier this month a senior state department official warned that the United States was considering "intrusive measures" to deliver food aid to people being starved by the Mugabe government.
Aid experts say the US could be considering dropping food aid by air to the southern Matabeleland region which is not receiving adequate international food aid.
"The United States is taking a tougher approach," said Iden Wetherell, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent.
"They are legitimately concerned that Mugabe is starving his own people. And so they must venture out to all parts of the country, and in doing so they will become targets of Mugabe's violent militias."
The US does not consider Mr Mugabe as the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe because of an alleged rigged election earlier this year.
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