Botswana has recalled two diplomats from its Harare embassy, saying that the process of resolving bilateral security security issues has broken down.
Gaborone sources said President Robert Mugabe snubbed Botswanan Vice President Mompati Merafhe when he sought a meeting with Mr. Mugabe at a recent African Union summit. He wanted to discuss the continued detention of three wildlife officers arrested after they strayed into Zimbabwe.
“Efforts by Botswana have included phone calls by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Phandu Skelemani and the Botswana Police Commissioner, Mr. Thebeyame Tsimako to their counterparts in Zimbabwe to resolve this issue," a Botswana statement said.
The statement said the phone calls were not returned, leading the Botswanan government to conclude Zimbabwe did not want to resolve the issue.
Sources in Gaborone said the country's ambassador in Harare has visited the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Harare several times seeking intervention, and the Zimbabwean ambassador in Gaborone has been summoned twice to seek the cooperation of the Zimbabwean government in resolving the issue.
The statement said that given the Zimbabwean government's seeming desire to "rebuff all attempts by the Government of Botswana to find diplomatic and amicable solution to the problem, Botswana has taken a decision to recall its Defense and Intelligence Attachés" from Harare by the end of February. The corresponding Zimbabwean officials in Gaborone will be sent home.
Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi could not be reached for comment. But a Zimbabwean government official called the move by Gaborone a "provocation." The government of Botswana was one of the most outspoken critics of the former government of President Mugabe, and declared that his re-election in June 2008 was not legitimate given the widespread violence that followed his first-round defeat.
Botswanan government spokesman Jeff Ramsay told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga that he hopes bilateral tensions will not escalate.