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Diplomatic Tension in Harare Over Detention of U.S. Ambassador

U.S. Embassy officials in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare have expressed “regret” at conflicting statements issued by government officials following the brief detention early this week of the U.S. ambassador for walking too near the president’s residence.

Ambassador Christopher Dell was on a “recreational visit” to the National Botanical Gardens on Monday, according to a statement issued by the American Embassy’s public affairs office, when he was detained for over an hour by military security officers who released him after establishing he was a member of the diplomatic corps.

Government officials said Mr. Dell “deliberately ignored the ‘No Entry Security Zone’ signs posted in the vicinity of the restricted security area” near the official residence of President Robert Mugabe, the state-controlled herald newspaper reported.

But the embassy said the area was poorly marked and in the middle of the park.

Following the incident, the Zimbabwean Foreign Office’s chief of protocol apologized to Ambassador Dell for the incident, and the next day a oreign affairs permanent secretary sent a similar apology which the embassy accepted, the embassy said.

But Harare then changed its tone as the Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a protest note to the embassy over what it called Mr. Dell’s “illegal attempt to enter a secure area.”

Presidential spokesman George Charamba told the Herald the ambassador should consider himself a lucky man, as he could have been accidentally shot to death.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Princeton Lyman, a former ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria and now the Washington-based director for Africa policy studies for the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. Lyman said such statements from Harare were uncalled for.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...