Relations between Harare and the international community have plummeted to a new low following a warning issued by Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi to Western diplomats that the government might expel envoys who criticize the government's ongoing efforts to crush its political and civic opponents.
Mumbengegwi summoned diplomats on Monday, and after reading a statement of the Zimbabwean governments position, issued the threat to diplomats to “remain quiet or face being declared persona non grata." Mumbengegwi's warning followed similar threats issued publicly by President Robert Mugabe over the weekend.
Addressing a session of the ruling ZANU-PF party's Youth League Assembly, Mr. Mugabe declared that,"Those who want to represent their countries here must behave or else we kick them out of our country." President Mugabe said then that he would instruct Mumbengegwi to summon Western diplomats and put them on notice.
The U.S. State Department and the British embassy in Harare have issued statements saying that they will not back down from their positions critical of Harare.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told journalists that Ambassador Christopher Dell walked out of the meeting after Mumbengegwi refused to give him an assurance that the diplomats would be allowed to respond.
McCormack said the United States “will continue to speak and act steadfastly in support of the people of Zimbabwe’s right to democracy.” He added in response to a question that there were no plans to reduce the U.S. diplomatic presence in Harare.
British Embassy spokeswoman Gillian Dare said Mumbengegwi's threat won't deter U.K. officials from pointing out “misgovernance and human rights abuses.”
International relations expert Innocent Sithole told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare’s threat to expel diplomats is an empty one based on the specious argument that the opposition is illegitimate and poses a threat.
A European Union spokesman said the 27-nation bloc cannot involve itself directly in the crisis in Zimbabwe, but is concerned at the deteriorating situation in the country. EU development and humanitarian aid spokesman Altasaj Amadeu said European officials fear that Zimbabweans are being denied their right to speak out.
Amadeu told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the Zimbabwean people need the space to determine their own destiny.