Reuben Barwe's US visa causes diplomatic storm

HARARE - The United States issued a visa to ZBC News chief correspondent Reuben Barwe on Saturday to travel to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly after Zimbabwe protested to the UN chief Ban Ki-moon about the delay in granting him travel permits to cover the world summit.

Barwe was scheduled to travel with President Robert Mugabe who left Harare Wednesday night for to the 67th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly currently underway at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Barwe claimed the Harare embassy had vindictively denied him a visa to cover the United Nations General Assembly as part of Washington's sanctions regime on Harare, but embassy officials in Harare said he submitted his papers late and that no Zimbabwean journalists are on the US targeted measures list.

But Barwe told the Daily News before he departed for New York yesterday that he submitted his application well in time and that he was actually one of the first members of the presidential delegation to lodge his application. He says he made payment to the embassy on August 6.

The ZBC chief reporter said the visa he got from the embassy on Saturday stated that Washington clearance for his visa was issued on September 21, a day after the UN chief had taken Zimbabwe's protests to the legal division of the UN headquarters in New York.

Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi had fired off a protest letter to the UN chief charging that US authorities were misusing the country's status as the seat of the UN headquarters as political leverage to advance their political agenda against Zimbabwe.

Mumbengegwi cited the UN Charter, which says all member states and their delegations are supposed to have access without hindrance to the headquarters of any UN organ.

Sharon Hudson-Dean, a US embassy spokesperson in Harare told the Daily News Barwe was never denied a visa, but that the clearance took longer.

"On September 22 (Saturday), the US embassy in Harare issued a visa to Mr. Reuben Barwe, chief correspondent for ZBC television, to travel to the 2012 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)," Hudson-Dean said.

She said Barwe was not on the US targeted sanctions list.

The US's "narrowly targeted sanctions," including travel bans, were imposed on over 200 specific high level individuals and their families in Zimbabwe, accused of undermining democracy and crushing the Zimbabwean people's civil liberties.

Barwe said the US had "bend backwards after they have seen that what they have done is wrong."

"They don't have proper sanctions on me, but they are just playing games with me," he said.

"They pick and choose. They want to intimidate me. How come it has happened twice?"

But Hudson-Dean said contrary to claims by Barwe that he was denied a visa twice to cover the UN General Assembly in 2012 and earlier in 2010, he did receive US visas both years, apparently late on both occasions.

"Visa processing can at times take longer than normal depending on the volume of applications; September is a high-volume visa processing time because of the UNGA," she said.

"The United States takes seriously its role in facilitating foreign representative participation in the United Nations annual General Assembly. Delegations from nearly 200 countries travel to the US each year for this meeting. The US State Department makes every effort to process delegation visa applications, including Zimbabwean applications, in a timely and efficient manner. As of today, all Zimbabwean delegation members’ visas for the UNGA have been issued; two visas for government officials planning to attend meetings that coincide with the UN GA are still pending."

As UN host country, the US has a policy of issuing visas for members of delegations, in line with a 1947 pact with the United Nations, regardless of disputes with individual countries.

However, it does sometimes refuse entry to government officials and professionals from Zimbabwe with which it has had uneasy diplomatic ties since the turn the century.

The 88-year-old Zimbabwean president who has been in power since 1980 and is seeking a fresh five-year term in office, has used previous UN speeches to make verbal attacks on the United States and Europe and missed no opportunity to cry out loud as a victim of western vilification, double standards and what he has repeatedly called "rank hypocrisy."

Most Western envoys walk out of the UN chamber during his speeches, in protest. - Gift Phiri

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