Zimbabwe Holds U.S., U.K. Diplomats

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwean police detained U.S. and British diplomats for several hours Thursday, slashing the tires of their cars after they visited victims of political violence ahead of a presidential vote, the U.S. Embassy said.

The U.S. ambassador blamed the attack on President Robert Mugabe's government, which it accuses of trying to intimidate opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's supporters ahead of the June 27 run-off election.

"Now what they are trying to do is intimidate diplomats from traveling to the countryside to witness the violence being perpetrated against the population," U.S. Ambassador James McGee said in an interview on CNN.

The embassy said the diplomats were released after several hours.

Britain, human rights groups and Zimbabwe's opposition also accuse Mugabe of a campaign of violence to try to keep his 28-year hold on a power. Tsvangirai says 65 people have been killed.

Mugabe blames his opponents for the violence and sanctions imposed by Western countries for the collapse of the once prosperous economy. The opposition says he ruined Zimbabwe.

The attack on the diplomatic convoy took place in Bindura, 80 kilometers north of Harare, the U.S. Embassy said.

McGee said police stopped the vehicles at a roadblock and slashed the tires. He said supporters of Mugabe threatened to set the vehicles ablaze unless the diplomats accompanied police to a nearby station.

"We do believe this is coming directly from the top," he said.

A British government spokesman said Zimbabwe's ambassador in London had been summoned to give an explanation. Zimbabwe police were not available for comment.

Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in a March 29 presidential election but failed to win enough votes to avoid a second round.