A group of British and American diplomats traveling to a meeting with the Zimbabwe opposition was stopped at a roadblock and attacked by both police and President Robert Mugabe’s “war veterans” in Zimbabwe on Thursday. The diplomats were held at gunpoint for several hours after the incident, which has provoked international outcry.
Five American and four British diplomats left Harare on Thursday morning in a three-vehicle convoy to meet with activists from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the town of Bindura, The Times Online reports.
The house in which they were meeting was surrounded by police, who told the diplomats to report to a local police station.
The diplomats apparently refused and drove away. Soon afterwards, their convoy was blocked by an unmarked truck manned by war veterans loyal to President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee told CNN about the confrontation.
"My people were stopped, detained," he said. "The police put up a roadblock, stopped the vehicles, slashed the tires, reached in and grabbed the telephones from my personnel. And the war veterans threatened to burn the vehicles with my people inside unless they got out of the vehicles and accompanied the police to a station nearby."
Sky News reported that two of the vehicles escaped, though one did not. A U.S. spokesman said that an American Embassy employee, thought to be a local staffer, was taken from the car and beaten.
The detained diplomats were later released.
Addressing the incident, Ambassador McGee called Zimbabwe a “lawless society” and said there was a campaign of intimidation coming “directly from the top.”
“This is the co-ordinated campaign to try to intimidate us and people into not witnessing what’s happening in Zimbabwe,” he said.
The White House has denounced the incident as an "outrageous" and "completely unacceptable" attack. Downing Street said that the Zimbabwean ambassador to Britain has been summoned to the Foreign Office to explain the attack, the Times Online says.
According to Reuters, Zimbabwe's currency plunged to a new record low on Thursday, trading at an average 1 billion to the U.S. dollar on a recently introduced interbank market and triggering massive price increases. In February Zimbabwe’s inflation rate was officially reported to be the highest in the world at 165,000 percent. Analysts say the inflation rate reached as high as 1.8 million percent in May.