6 July 2007

Zimbabwe: New U.S. Ambassador Won't Relent On Zim - Dell

Harare — THE United States is not going to change its stance on Zimbabwe even after the departure of the current ambassador, Christopher Dell.

The outgoing ambassador said his successor would continue criticising President Robert Mugabe's government in line with his country's policy.

U.S. Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday were hijacked by a government spokesman who said diplomats should engage in bridge-building, not "bridge-busting".

During his three-year stay in the country, Dell drew fire from the government because of his open criticism of Mugabe's policies, which he recently said would grind the country's economy to a halt within the next six months.

Speaking at the 231st anniversary of America's Independence, Dell said it was a principle of the American government not to abandon Africa.

"Without Africa, America would not be what it is - and for that reason, America will never abandon Africa," Dell said. "I am certain that you will find my successor and my government continue to be just as committed and dedicated to that cause as I have tried to be in my three years here."

The outspoken diplomat who has been posted to Afghanistan as deputy chief of mission and leaves Zimbabwe next week said his interventions which marked his stay in Zimbabwe represented U.S. policy. He said he was also speaking on behalf of suffering Zimbabweans who are denied freedom of speech.

"I hope that by representing my country as I have and by speaking out against the abuse of power and erosion of liberties, I was able -- in some small way - to give public voice to the hopes, concerns and aspirations that I know we share, but which you are prevented from openly expressing," he said.

The U.S. government has previously said Dell's criticism of the Zimbabwean authorities "very fairly and accurately reflect(s) the policy of the United States".

The attempt by Foreign Affairs official Samuel Mhango to claim Zimbabwe's meltdown was caused by external forces was received with derisive laughter by many of those present at the July 4 reception. He had not been invited.

Observers are waiting to see if Dell is given an appointment to take his leave of Mugabe as is the practice. On present form that seems unlikely!

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