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Zimbabwe deports UN investigator to South Africa

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[October 29, 2009]  JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Zimbabwean immigration officials barred the United Nations' torture investigator from entering their country and returned him to South Africa Thursday, an act he termed a "serious diplomatic incident" that reflects a split in the coalition government.

Restaurant"There are certainly some parts of the government who do not want me to assess the current conditions of torture," Manfred Nowak angrily told reporters in Johannesburg upon arrival from Zimbabwe.

Nowak said he had a meeting scheduled with Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai Thursday at the start of his mission to investigate alleged attacks on Tsvangirai supporters by militants linked to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Tsvangirai, a longtime opposition leader, joined the government with Mugabe in February, but withdrew temporarily from Cabinet earlier this month after accusing ZANU-PF of human rights violations.


Nowak called his treatment "alarming" evidence of the split in the southern African country's coalition government.

He had received word from other Zimbabwean officials that he should not come only after he had flown from Austria to South Africa en route to neighboring Zimbabwe. Still, Nowak flew to Zimbabwe Wednesday, citing his invitation from Tsvangirai. When he arrived, airport immigration officials told him the foreign ministry had not cleared his meeting with the prime minister, he said. He spent the night in the airport.

"I have never been treated as rudely by any government as the government of Zimbabwe," Nowak snapped.

Nowak said that he contacted Tsvangirai's office from the airport, which sent a high-level delegation to fetch him. The delegation was barred by airport security, and was even told Nowak was not at the airport, the U.N. envoy said.

Tsvangirai's spokesman, James Maridadi, said Thursday that Nowak's trip had been cleared and that he could not immediately say why he had been barred.

"We are surprised that he was detained last night at Harare International Airport," Maridadi said.

Joey Bimha, the top civil servant in the ZANU-PF-controlled foreign ministry, said Nowak had been told he could not come because officials were engaged with Tsvangirai's temporary withdrawal from the Cabinet. A trio of foreign ministers from neighboring countries was holding talks with the factions Thursday and Friday in an attempt to end the impasse.

"We had no option but to send (Nowak) back because we had informed him that his services were no longer needed here," Bimha said.

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Nowak said he could have modified his trip if he was given the chance to discuss that during his planned meeting with Tsvangirai. He said unilaterally calling off a trip at the 11th hour that had taken weeks of consultation with Zimbabwean officials "is diplomatically not acceptable."

If Tsvangirai "is not in a position to clear my entrance to the country, that is a very, very alarming signal about the power structure of the government," Nowak said.

Under Zimbabwe's coalition agreement, the foreign ministry is controlled by Mugabe's party, in power for nearly three decades and accused of trampling on human rights and democracy. Home Affairs, which oversees immigration as well as police, is shared by ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change after the longtime rivals were unable to agree on which would control the key ministry.


"This is not the way the United Nations should be dealt with by a member state of the United Nations," Nowak said, demanding an explanation from Zimbabwean authorities.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement Wednesday that Nowak was initially invited to Zimbabwe from Oct. 28 to Nov. 4.

[Associated Press; By DONNA BRYSON]

Associated Press Writer Chengetai Zvauya in Harare, Zimbabwe contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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