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Libyans in Zimbabwe warn Mugabe

By Chengetai Zvauya

Zimbabwe faces similar revolts to those that toppled Muammar Gaddafi’s regime if its leaders keep suppressing its people, a top Libyan envoy has said.

CLOSELY GUARDED... A Zimbabwean policeman closely guards pro-rebels Libyan ambassador Taher Elmagrahi at the Libyan embassy in Harare. Elmagrahi has been threatened with deportation by President Robert Mugabe. (Pic: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
CLOSELY GUARDED... A Zimbabwean policeman closely guards pro-rebels Libyan ambassador Taher Elmagrahi at the Libyan embassy in Harare. Elmagrahi has been threatened with deportation by President Robert Mugabe. (Pic: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Mohammed Elbarat, the country’s first counsellor in Harare, told the Daily News that they had recently warned Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs officials that Harare faced similar uprisings and instability if calls for greater individual freedoms go unheeded.

“We need to support democratic trends… on the continent as (they are) unstoppable. Our people knew about the need for democracy (for 42 years) so they decided to rise against Gaddafi after 42 years of dictatorship and these events can also happen here,” he said, after Libyan diplomats were summoned by Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi last week.

Elbarat and his hierarchy, including country representative Taher El Magrahi were not only rapped for hoisting the North African state’s new flag, but face deportation over their support for the National Transitional Council (NTC). The diplomats face another grilling at Munhumutapa this morning, which also houses President Robert Mugabe’s offices.

“What is happening in Libya is the new trend of democracy… (which) started in Tunisia and Egypt early this year. We told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that we cannot ignore the events back home and we had to hoist the flag of freedom,” Elbarat said.

“We know that Zimbabwe government is not comfortable with the NTC flag, but it is the reality on ground back. There is democracy now in Libya and people no longer want a ruler who stays in power for too long as what Gaddafi did. I don’t want to talk of Zimbabwean politics, but there is now democracy flowing on the continent and it can happen in any country,’’ he said.

Their ambassador, he emphasised, told Mumbengegwi’s lieutenants in no uncertain terms that the spirit or mood sweeping across Africa cannot be ignored and they also supported the NTC for Libyans did not embrace dictatorships nor were they in favour of one party politics.

Mugabe’s government, which is one of a few global administrations still to recognise the NTC, has close ties with the deposed leader and was not amused about the “flag incident” about two weeks ago.

It also says “the celebrations” were tantamount to supporting an uprising and lawlessness, which leads to the demise of a sovereign nation. Joey Bimha, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs permanent secretary, said recently that Harare did not recognise the rebel-led authority, so it did not want anything to do with the council or administration.

“We do not recognise them, we have diplomatic relationship with the Libyan government and we do not know that flag,’’ he said. For over a decade now, the eccentric Gaddafi has made significant investments in Zimbabwe at the back of frequent bailouts of Mugabe’s beleaguered government and Zanu PF party.

Last year, the stricken North African dictator’s son and financial point man Saif was in the country to scout for more agricultural, mining and tourism deals, but people like Elbarat have spoken against the contracts and said they must be revisited, if not seized for the new authority.

Although the Libyan embassy number three man acknowledged possible talks over deportation or outright expulsion at Monday’s Foreign Affairs meeting, he chose to downplay the threats in the aftermath of the offending celebratory and Gaddafi portrait “decommissioning” incident at the embassy.

“I was with the ambassador on Friday and he did not tell me that he will be deported, but l know they had a meeting with Foreign Affairs officials and two days ago on Wednesday to explain everything (on) the diplomatic relations between the two countries. We don’t have any official communication of the deportation order except reading about it in the press,’’ Elbarat said.

He also told the Daily News that the embassy had scaled down its operations since the beginning of the crisis in February this year and only five senior staffers remained on the ground.

“It is not true that we are being deported, but our budget was cut because of the problems back home… (and) we will continue our diplomatic work here,” he Elbarat said. Last week, El Magrahi led his countrymen in pulling down the fallen strongman’s favoured colours and replaced it with a new flag reflecting the NTC’s new vision, and thrust.

Along with Mugabe, Gaddafi had been one of Africa’s longest running presidents and rulers, but a six months and western-backed offensive has seen the once feared dictator scatter into thin air, and unknown bunkers. As he remains at large, rebels have not only put a near-$2 million bounty on his head, but he has been frequently linked with an asylum to Zimbabwe, which also gave sanctuary to ex-Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Disgruntled Libyans have not only ransacked his lavish compounds in Tripoli, but rebels are also pounding and closing in on his hometown of Sirte. However, Mumbengegwi’s external relations functionaries have always sidestepped the issue of the fallen dictator’s refuge here in Zimbabwe. Daily News

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