HARARE, Oct 29 – The United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture said Wednesday he was being barred entry to Zimbabwe, where he was due to meet Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Manfred Nowak, UN special rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment told AFP by telephone from inside Harare airport that he had been stopped despite being invited by Tsvangirai.
"The immmigration officials told us you are not allowed to go any further. It’s a little bizarre because I do have have a written invitation from the Prime Minister who wants to see me tomorrow at 10:00 am," Nowak said.
The Zimbabwe government had on Monday withdrawn its invitation for Nowak’s eight-day mission, amid a renewed political crisis between power-sharing rivals Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe.
However, informed of the U-turn on arriving in neighbouring South Africa Tuesday, Nowak said he was still invited to meet Tsvangirai in an originally planned session on Thursday.
The UN human rights office has underlined the urgency of the fact-finding mission, highlighting allegations that supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had been arrested and intimidated in recent days.
"I don’t really know under whose instructions the immigration officials are acting," said Nowak, who was held at the airport along with two colleagues after landing in Harare shortly after 1900 GMT.
"The situation is that they have not received any clearance from the ministry of foreign affairs and unless foreign affairs is issuing a clearance they will have the instruction to send us back with the next plane which is leaving tomorrow morning."
He added: "They are not asking any questions, they are treating us well, we can use our phones."
Zimbabwe’s foreign minister was at the airport when Nowak’s plane arrived to welcome a regional delegation, which meets Thursday to review Zimbabwe’s unity pact progress amid a boycott by Tsvangirai of his 85-year-old ruling partner.
Harare, via its Geneva mission, had announced that it could not maintain the proposed dates for the UN mission.
It cited Thursday’s "previously unanticipated consultative process" with the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The incident came as Tsvangirai and his ministers boycotted a cabinet meeting led by Mugabe for the second time after talks between the two leaders the previous day failed to break a deadlock.
Tsvangirai has suspended ties with the 85-year-old until all unresolved issues in the government’s unity pact are ironed out — including disputes over key posts and a crackdown against his supporters.
Nowak, who said earlier he hoped to be received in a "cooperative spirit" by Zimbabwe’s entire government despite the conflicting messages, said the team has contacted Tsvangirai’s office to request clearance to leave the airport.