ZIMBABWE yesterday gave former Libyan Ambassador Mr Taher Elmegrahi and his embassy staff a 72-hour ultimatum to leave following their renunciation of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s authority last week.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi told journalists in Harare yesterday that Mr Elmegrahi’s actions contravened international law and protocols governing diplomatic relations.
“Once you renounce the authority, which gave you letters of credence, pull down their portrait and burn the flag and pledge allegiance to a different authority, it means that act alone deprives you of the diplomatic standing, which you had been accorded.
“This is what happened here with the ambassador and his staff. That act alone deprived the Libyan ambassador and his staff of any diplomatic status or standing in Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe does not recognise the National Transitional Council.
“It is in this context that the Libyan ambassador and his staff have been ordered to leave Zimbabwe within the next 72 hours,” Minister Mumbengegwi said.
Earlier in the day, Mr Elmegrahi had met Foreign Affairs Secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha, where the Government’s decision was conveyed to him in a note verbale.
Reads the note verbale: “The Government of Zimbabwe regards the recent statements and activities of the ambassador and staff of the Embassy of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as being inconsistent with their status as diplomatic agents of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
“Furthermore, both the statements and activities are unacceptable to the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe, which has diplomatic relations with the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.”
The ministry added that in terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the ambassador and the staff no longer enjoyed diplomatic relations.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to inform the esteemed embassy that the Government of Zimbabwe has taken a decision to withdraw its diplomatic staff from the embassy of Zimbabwe in Tripoli.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Zimbabwe avails itself this opportunity to renew to the embassy of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya the assurances of its highest consideration,” reads the note.
A highly-placed source yesterday said Government’s actions were not a cut but a freeze in diplomatic relations with Libya.
“This does not mean diplomatic relations have been cut, it’s just a freeze in relations. The relations can be restored in future although it is likely to be through a third country,” the source said.
The source said the NTC was not recognised by Zimbabwe because it had been installed by NATO and excluded other Libyans.
Zimbabwe embassy staff in Libya has already been evacuated and skeletal staff that was remaining was moved to Algeria.
“From the onset, the African Union has called for peace and an all-inclusive government to be installed and the NTC goes against all this,” the source said.
Mr Elmegrahi said soon after the meeting that he accepted Zimbabwe’s decision.
“Of course, I expected the decision because Zimbabwe is a sovereign country. I will now go to my office and decide what to do but I still respect the Government (of Zimbabwe) and its people.
“What is happening is our internal business,” Mr Elmegrahi said.
Minister Mumbengegwi defended Government’s decision saying Mr Elmegrahi had brought the matter on himself.
“The Government of Zimbabwe has not taken any drastic action, it is the Libyan ambassador and his staff who took the drastic action of denouncing the authority that gave him the letters of credence and in the process deprive themselves of diplomatic standing,” he said.
The minister said at its Organ on Peace and Security meeting in Ethiopia last week the AU did not recognise the NTC as the Libyan authority.
“At that meeting, the AU reiterated its position, which it has held from the beginning (of the Libyan conflict) that the only way to solve the Libyan problem is dialogue.It resolved that there be immediate cessation of hostilities to allow the AU high level panel to initiate the dialogue.
“There were efforts to recognise the NTC as a legitimate representative of Libyan people, but it was decided that if an all inclusive government was set up, then the AU will allow representatives of that Libyan Government to take the Libyan seat in the AU,” he said.
The NTC has been recognised by at least 13 African countries.
The AU has called for dialogue among all the parties in Libya including Colonel Gaddafi, while the NTC does not want him and members of his Government to be part of any future authority.
The Libyan conflict started six months ago following similar unrest in Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab nations.
The uprisings resulted in the fall of governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
The UN Security Council intervened and imposed a no-fly zone over Libya under UN Security Council resolution 1973 after allegations that Gaddafi was using excessive force on civilians.
NATO used the resolution as a scapegoat to assist the rebels to oust Gaddafi, a move that has been opposed by the AU.
When Mr Elmegrahi defected last Wednesday, he said he was following the wishes of the Libyan people.
Meanwhile, Minister Mumbengegwi commended efforts by African countries to assist nations in the Horn of Africa that have been devastated by drought.
At its pledging conference last week, over US$300 million was raised, while another US$200 million was raised in pledges and kind.
The minister said this was part of AU’s efforts to proffer African solutions to African problems.