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Western Diplomats Refuse to Apologize for Diplomatic Dispute

Diplomats reject demand that they apologize for walking out of official funeral to protest remarks by Mr. Mugabe

Several senior Western diplomats in Zimbabwe have rejected a demand by the Zimbabwean government that they apologize for walking out of an official funeral to protest remarks by President Robert Mugabe.

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray told reporters in Harare he would not apologize for leaving the funeral of President Robert Mugabe's sister because he felt the president had publicly insulted his country.

"I was taught as a child to apologize when I have done something wrong," Ray said. "When I have been insulted to simply leave the venue where I am being insulted and am clearly not welcome is nothing to apologize for."

The U.S. envoy made the remarks after he and senior diplomats from Germany and the European Union were summoned Tuesday by Zimbabwe's foreign minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, to express what was described as his concern and disappointment over their behavior.

During his sister's funeral Sunday, Mr. Mugabe accused Western governments of trying to control his government through sanctions against state-owned companies and senior ZANU-PF leaders. "They (Western governments) think they can then dictate, 'Do A, B and C, remove so and so,' and of course it is Mugabe first who must go, according to them, and then 'We will relate with you.' To hell with them," he said.

The Zimbabwean foreign minister said the walkout was disrespectful to Zimbabwe and its people. But German Ambassador Albrecht Conze disagreed.

"While we were paying our respects, Europeans and Americans were treated disrespectfully," he said. "And as we are representing them, we all felt that we had no other choice but to leave the venue."

Western governments nearly 10 years ago imposed travel, banking, and business bans on more than 100 senior Zimbabwean leaders and dozens of state-owned companies because of human-rights abuses.

Mr. Mugabe has campaigned for the sanctions to be lifted since he entered into a power-sharing government with the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Western governments have indicated a willingness to ease the sanctions, but only after what they call meaningful political reform is carried out.

In a meeting Tuesday with young African leaders in Washington, U.S. President Obama said Mr. Mugabe was not serving his people well.

He said the U.S. government did not want to punish the Zimbabwean people because of an abusive leader, but it could not have political or commercial dealings with a government that did not observe basic human rights.