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Zimbabwe army panic over Libya revolt

Robert Mugabe’s regime is worried about events in Libya and over the weekend got Zimbabwe National Army Commander Lieutenant-General Philip Valerio Sibanda to issue what was meant to be a re-assuring statement that Mugabe would not be toppled by rebel forces as happened in Libya.

Philip Valerio Sibanda
Philip Valerio Sibanda

In an interview after a passout parade at Imbizo Barracks on the outskirts of Bulawayo yesterday, Lt-Gen Sibanda said the rebellion in North Africa, particularly Libya, was not a threat to Zimbabwe.

“Certain things have happened. There are threats of divisions within the African Union over events like in Libya where people are fighting to further their own interests. It is such events that show weaknesses of organisations like the AU when they fail to deal with rebels with one voice and with a common goal as a continent.

“The country is secure only as far as we make it, but if we decide to invite foreigners then we will have challenges. I am disturbed to see that some were not singing the national anthem because they think it is for a certain group of people and not for all of us as citizens.

“I feel people do not realise it is the country’s prayer. The first stanza is about the history of the country while the second stanza tells us about how rich Zimbabwe is. The third stanza outlines Zimbabwe’s location between Limpopo and Zambezi and the need for wise leaders,” said Lt-Gen Sibanda.

But amidst the bravado, his speech betrayed a deepening fear within the regime that events in the North of Africa where repressive governments in Egypt, Tunisia and now Libya have been toppled might be replicated in Zimbabwe. Discussions by Zimbabweans on social networking sites show a desire for similar rebellion.

Last week the ZANU PF side of the coalition government decided to expel the Libyan ambassador in Harare, Taher Elmagrahi. This follows his defection to rebels that have taken over the Libyan capital Tripoli and ousted long time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Ambassador Elmagrabi is being accused of leading Libyan nationals in Harare who staged a protest against Gaddafi at the embassy on Wednesday. The demonstrators pulled down the official Libyan flag and burned it, before raising the flag belonging to the rebels, or the National Transitional Council (NTC) as it’s being called.

“From today, August 24, we follow the Libyan majority, the Libyan people, through our National Transitional Authority,” Elmagrahi told reporters outside the embassy. “We are here representing the Libyan people and not Gaddafi. I am not Gaddafi’s ambassador. I represent the Libyan people.”

Officials from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they no longer recognise Elmagrahi and that the hoisting of the NTC’s red, black and green flag at the embassy was illegal. Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Joey Bimha confirmed that they have recommended to the Immigration Department that the ambassador’s legal status be reviewed.

On Friday several reports quoted Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi as having given the ambassador five days to leave the country. Our correspondent/SW Radio Africa

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