Zimbabwean ruling party militants assaulted U.S. and British diplomats on Thursday as they returned from a trip to the provinces to investigate political violence, at one point threatening to set a vehicle afire with two envoys inside if they refused to cooperate.
A U.S. Embassy driver was beaten and sustained minor injuries in the incident on the road between Harare and Bindura, Mashonaland Central, said U.S. Ambassador James McGee, declaring that Zimbabwe "has become a lawless country."
McGee was involved in a stand-off with Zimbabwean police himself a few weeks ago on a trip to the provinces to visit hospitals treating victims of political violence.
"This government is not following their own laws," McGee told VOA, "they're definitely not following any international laws, they continue to perpetuate violence against the people of Zimbabwe, trying to intimidate them from voting, and now the government is trying to intimidate diplomats from traveling outside Harare to witness the violence against the citizens of this fine country."
The three-car convoy that traveled from Harare to Bindura included five Americans, four Britons and three Zimbabweans, U.S. and other sources said.
One of the vehicles was forced to stop on the highway to the capital, upon which the police slashed its tires to immobilize it. The vehicle was then surrounded by a crowd of war veterans who ordered the two diplomats inside - one U.S., the other British - to accompany them to the local police station. The diplomats refused, upon which the ruling party militants threatened to set the car on fire with the envoys inside it.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack called the incident "absolutely outrageous." He said it reflected the "repression and violence" that Harare is prepared to use against its own people.
Zimbabwean police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena denied that police threatened the diplomats, saying authorities were trying to rescue them from a mob.
Correspondent Safari Njema of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, among the journalists covering the trip by the diplomats, told reporter Carole Gombakomba that the convoy was first halted by members of the police but soon beset by war veterans.
U.S. Ambassador James McGee later told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 that he would continue to highlight political violence and repression.