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Zimbabwe Expels Libyan Ambassador for Supporting Anti-Gadhafi Forces

Foreign Affairs Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi defended the government’s decision to expel Taher Elmagrahi, saying Zimbabwe does not recognize the National Transitional Council now in control of most of Libya

The government of Zimbabwe Tuesday ordered Libyan Ambassador Taher Elmagrahi to leave the country for declaring his loyalty to the anti-Gadhafi forces in control of most of the North African country, the Foreign Affairs Ministry explaining that Harare does not recognize the National Transitional Council directing the forces which rebelled against Gadhafi.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi told a news conference that Ambassador Elmagrahi was no longer recognized by Harare as Libya’s official representative.

“The government of Zimbabwe has not taken any drastic action," said Mumbengegwi. "It is the Libyan Ambassador and his staff who took the drastic action of renouncing the authority that gave them ... their letters of credence and by taking that drastic action the Ambassador and his staff deprived themselves of any diplomatic standing in Zimbabwe."

Mumbengegwi said Elmagrahi and his staff were given three days to leave the country.

Asked whether Zimbabwe was not concerned that diplomatic ties between Harare and Tripoli could be damaged given what seems to be the likelihood that the transitional council will consolidate its hold on the country, Mumbengegwi defended the government’s decision to expel Elmagrahi, saying Zimbabwe does not recognize the NTC.

Ambassador Elmagrahi said he respects Zimbabwe's decision.

Asked if Harare would offer asylum to Gaddafi if the Libyan leader requested it, Mumbengegwi said journalists were asking “hypothetical questions” and ended the news conference. In the past week rumors have proliferated along with seemingly spurious Gadhafi sightings.

Ozias Tungwarara, director of the Open Society Institute’s Africa Governance, Monitoring and Advocacy project told reporter Violet Gonda that the decision to expel the Libyan ambassador was unwise on Harare's part given the speed at which events are unfolding in Libya.

“For the Zimbabwean government to take a position that seems to be based on friendship, solidarity, which maybe misplaced at this point in time is to do a disservice to the nation and it is to box Zimbabwe into a corner which may be very difficult to come out of because this is a situation that no one can actually predict how it will turn out,” Tungwarara said.

The analyst said a "sober mind" is needed when conducting foreign relations rather than a reliance on emotional bonds of friendship bonds that be outdated.

Libyan nationals in Zimbabwe demonstrated at the country’s Harare embassy last week and pledged their support to the National Transitional Council. Transitional council forces have taken control of most of Tripoli and have launched a manhunt for Gaddafi.

Elmagrahi is the first diplomat to be expelled from Zimbabwe. Several years ago Harare threatened to expel then-US Ambassador Christopher Dell for his outspoken criticism of the Mugabe government's human rights record, among other issues.

Elmagrahi did not fly his country’s flag on his official vehicle today when he went to a meeting with Foreign Affairs officials where he was advised of the decision to expel him.

At the Libyan embassy only the African Union flag was displayed.