Zimbabwe media says US ambassador risks expulsion

Monday, November 7, 2005; 4:58 PM

HARARE (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe risks expulsion after his blistering attack in which he blamed the country's crisis on mismanagement and corrupt rule, state media said on Monday.

But the media said President Robert Mugabe would not personally summon ambassador Christopher Dell to confront him over his statements, as had been reported on Sunday, saying the foreign ministry was dealing with the case.

Mugabe, 81 and in power for 25 years, is accused by his critics of wrecking the southern African state by rigging elections in the last five years and pursuing controversial policies which have left him branded a dictator.

In his strongest criticism yet of Mugabe, Dell said last week the Zimbabwe government was responsible for plunging one of Africa's once promising countries into a crisis which has turned it into a beggar from a net exporter of food.

The government-controlled Herald daily said Dell could be kicked out of Zimbabwe for his "undiplomatic" conduct or alternatively be placed under surveillance by security agents.

"Dell risks being expelled for his continued meddling in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe," it said in a front page story.

The Sunday Mail had said Mugabe would summon Dell this week, "for his undiplomatic behavior that has seen him interfering in the internal affairs of the country by issuing misleading statements expected from an opposition party official rather than a diplomat."

But the Herald, the Sunday Mail's sister newspaper, said on Monday Mugabe would not summon the ambassador.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli backed the U.S. ambassador's comments and said there had been no formal communication about the issue from the Zimbabwean government.

"I think our ambassador and his comments very fairly and accurately reflect the policy of the United States," said Ereli, when asked at a news briefing about Zimbabwean newspaper reports indicating that the ambassador risked expulsion.

Relations between the United States and Zimbabwe have soured in recent years with Washington accusing Mugabe's government of human rights abuses and rigging elections.

Mugabe says Zimbabwe has been targeted by foreign opponents led by former colonial ruler Britain for his nationalistic policies and says most of Africa is firmly on his side in what he describes as an ongoing struggle against imperialism.

Dell's criticism in a public lecture at a Zimbabwean university followed a diplomatic dispute last month when he was briefly detained by the Presidential Guard after straying into a secure area near Mugabe's residence.

The government said Dell was lucky not to have been killed and sent a letter of protest to the U.S. embassy. The embassy said the ambassador had accepted apologies from two senior Zimbabwe foreign affairs officials over the incident.

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