Zimbabwe could seize local Swiss government assets in retaliation for that country’s decision to refuse visas for six members of President Robert Mugabe’s delegation who were due to attend a UN summit in Geneva.
Mugabe was forced to cancel a trip to Geneva last week after his wife and top aides including his spokesman, the Central Intelligence Organization, CIO, director general and top bodyguard were declined visas.
But Mugabe, speaking at the Harare International Airport on Sunday as he returned from a “private visit” to Asia, warned that “Zimbabwe is not without means to reciprocate”.
He told reporters: “We were surprised, if not saddened, by what they have done. Much more, the Swiss government has always held itself as a neutral country that did not countenance war as it was neutral in any conflict even during the First and Second World Wars.
“Now they are showing that they are vicious and we will reciprocate because they have their properties here. We are not without means to reciprocate.”
The Swiss embassy in Harare refused to comment, referring questions on visas to the Foreign Ministry in Berne.
Mugabe and about 200 members of his inner circle have been banned since 2001 from traveling to most Western countries, including Switzerland, under sanctions imposed following allegations of human rights violations.
However, Mugabe has the right to enter the countries from which he has been blacklisted if the purpose of his visit is a meeting of the UN or one of its organs. Mugabe was due to have addressed a summit of the International Telecommunication Union, a UN body, on Monday.
The 87-year-old leader usually travels to UN meetings with one of the largest delegations of any nation. Critics say that the size of the delegations is a drain on the cash-strapped country’s coffers.
Swiss officials say for the Geneva trip, Mugabe and 62 members of his delegation had been granted visas, but had cancelled the trip after being told of the visa obstacle for his wife, Grace, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure Development Minister Nicholas Goche, CIO chief Happyton Bonyongwe, his spokesman George Charamba and top bodyguard Senior Assistant Commissioner Martin Kwainona.
Mugabe said on Sunday: “It is a violation of rules and regulations governing host countries of UN meetings. They are alongside the United States of America because the main part of the UN is hosted in New York and the other part and agencies related to the UN are in Geneva.
“As host country, you should undertake not to inhibit or prohibit visits on UN business.”