JOHANNESBURG – At the last minute, Zimbabwe on Wednesday blocked the United Nations' torture investigator from visiting the country where opponents to President Robert Mugabe have been attacked and harassed, but he vowed to go anyway at the invitation of the prime minister.
The actions by Zimbabwe, which had invited Manfred Nowak but then told him not to come after he had flown all the way from Vienna to Johannesburg en route to neighboring Zimbabwe, underscores the government's split personality. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a longtime opposition leader, joined the government with his erstwhile foe Mugabe in February, but withdrew temporarily earlier this month after accusing Mugabe's party of human rights violations.
Nowak told AP Television News that he plans to go to Zimbabwe on Thursday and stay through Nov. 4 to "investigate torture and mistreatment."
He said the government's cancellation of his visit that was to have begun on Wednesday and the prime minister's invitation "leads me to the conclusion that there must be some kind of misunderstanding between different Cabinet ministers in the government."
"I hope the government of Zimbabwe, and I mean the entire government of Zimbabwe will receive me in a positive manner," Nowak told a news conference.
He also expressed vexation about the flip-flop.
"This is no way to deal with the U.N.," Nowak said. In a statement from Geneva, the world body said he was to examine alleged attacks on opposition activists by ruling party supporters.
The U.N. said it was told by Zimbabwe that it "will be unable to receive" Nowak due to meetings in the capital, Harare, involving the government and the Southern African Development Community. Foreign ministers from three of the southern African nations that pushed for the coalition — Mozambique, Zambia and Angola — are due in Harare Thursday for talks to try to revive the coalition.
The U.N. said Wednesday that Nowak welcomes "all efforts to resolve the political crisis" in Zimbabwe, but he does not consider this a valid reason to cancel his planned visit.
Opposition supporters and human rights defenders have accused Mugabe's aides of violence, harassment and carrying out arbitrary arrests.
On Tuesday, Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said one of its security officials was beaten by the president's militants, and alleged it was part of a new wave of attacks that have been launched because the party stepped away from the governing coalition.
Ephraim Masawi, a spokesman for Mugabe's party, dismissed the allegations Tuesday as "cheap propaganda" intended to mask the failure of Tsvangirai's party to explain his decision to withdraw temporarily from the coalition.
The U.N. said these allegations "highlight the urgency of objective fact-finding by an independent U.N. expert."