Thursday, June 05, 2008

British And American Diplomats' Convoy Attacked

Sky News - A convoy carrying British and American diplomats has been attacked at gunpoint by around 40 supporters of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, sources say.

Windows of cars carrying the detained diplomats were smashed and the attackers tried to take the keys, a source in the convoy told Sky News.

It was at this point that the westerners made a daring bid to escape in their vehicles as they reportedly pushed other cars out of the way.

The officials were held for several hours but have now all been released. The US said one of its local drivers was beaten up.

A State Department spokesman said the 40-strong mob included "members of the army, Zimbabwe's intelligence organisation and war veterans (retired military-types) and the action was clearly organised".

A Zimbabwean government spokesman denied authorities threatened the diplomats and said the group was addressing a gathering at the home of an opposition party activist.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to Britain was later summoned to the Foreign Office to explain what happened.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the British diplomats were unharmed and no violence had been directed at them. But he went on: "It is a serious incident and one we have to take seriously."

The incident began at a police checkpoint when diplomats in three vehicles, two American and one British, went to see victims of political violence in Bindura, 50 miles north of the capital Harare.

The police reportedly said they wanted to take the four British and five US diplomats to a police station.

The westerners said they had diplomatic immunity, offered to leave the area but would not go to the station.

Vehicles carrying Zanu-PF government supporters then arrived, blocked the diplomats' cars and spikes were put on the road.

They then started attacking the cars, it is claimed, and the westerners fled the scene.

The White House has denounced as "outrageous" what it called a "completely unacceptable" attack on the convoy.

Sky's foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall said of the incident: "The British broke away first, got into their vehicle and battered another vehicle out of the road to get out of the way.

"The US diplomats got into the second car, went over some spikes in the road, blew their tyres but got away.

"The third vehicle is still there. The house is still surrounded and I think there are still three US diplomats held at gunpoint."

But an hour or so later, a US spokesman said all officials had been freed and were returning to Harare.