Zimbabwe + 4 more

Southern Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 9 March

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ZIMBABWE: Britain recalls ambassador
Britain on Thursday recalled its Zimbabwean ambassador in protest at customs officials who forcibly opened diplomatic bags destined for the British embassy, media reports said.

The 7 mt shipment was impounded by Zimbabwean officials on Saturday, who argued that they reserved the right to open unusually large "diplomatic" packages. The stalemate continued until Wednesday when Zimbabwe's customs officials forcibly opened the bags and discovered protective screening equipment for communications as well as tools for its installation.

"This is not the act of a civilised country," Britain's Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain reportedly said. "This is a grave breach of the Vienna Convention and Zimbabwe should be in no doubt that this is totally unacceptable behaviour." Hain added that Britain had accordingly decided to recall its ambassador from Harare for consultations.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Floods hit tourism

The countries of Southern Africa, reeling from the effects of floods that wreaked havoc since February, have experienced a drop in tourism, especially in the wildlife and ecotourism sectors, news reports said.

Industry officials reportedly said overseas tourists were concerned about the threat of malaria and other water-borne diseases and that a number of wildlife lodges have had cancellations because the rains have rendered game drives and walks impossible.

Mozambique, hardest hit by the floods, has seen its flow of foreign tourists reduced to a trickle, added the reports. Even in parts of the country that have not been affected by the floods, business has reportedly dried up because of perceptions that the whole country was under water.

South Africa's eastern province of Mpumalanga, which also experienced flooding, has seen tourism tailoring off after visitors cancelled their bookings because of the wet weather. A manager of a luxury wilderness camp in the province reportedly said they lost 120 bed nights because of the rains. "But the roads are fine now," the manager said.

SOUTH AFRICA: Fire teams sent to Ethiopia

South Africa will make available a 29-member team to Ethiopia to help in efforts to bring under control about 200 fires that have been raging in the 2,200-square km Bale Mountains National Park since early February, media reports said.

The park, home to three critically endangered mammals and 16 endangered bird species, has already lost 20,000 hectares of virgin lowland and Afro-montane mist and cloud forest to the fire. The park also accommodates 200 of Ethiopia's 400 wolves.

The reports said South Africa is sending 29 people, a Cessna 206 fire-spotting plane and 2 mt of fire-fighting equipment at a cost of US $75,000. Six South African fire-fighters have been in Addis Ababa since last week as part of an international committee, said the reports, adding that a further 21, who include four pilots, were to leave for Ethiopia at the weekend.

ZAMBIA: Torture victim awarded damages

A former Zambian army officer who was physically tortured while in police custody was awarded compensation amounting to over US $7,000 by the Lusaka high court on Wednesday, news reports said. The judge, in delivering judgement, said no law allows police to inflict any assault on a suspect, the reports added.

The victim, David Kataba, reportedly told the court he was arrested on 21 September 1997 until 3 October 1997 after police came to his house and told him they were looking for fake passports and vehicle registration papers, although they found nothing.

Kataba claimed he was beaten and tortured on 23 September, which he argued was unlawful and a violation of his human rights. He also claimed that his continued detention without being charged was also unlawful, the reports added.

[ENDS]

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