(AFP) — Zimbabwe has expelled Libya’s ambassador after he recognized the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) fighting Moamer Gaddafi’s regime, Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said Tuesday.
“The Libyan ambassador and his staff decided to renounce their allegiance to the government of Colonel Gaddafi. This act deprives the Libyan ambassador and his staff of any diplomatic status in Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe does not recognise the TNC,” Mumbengegwi told journalists.
“So it is in this context that the Libyan ambassador and his staff are required to leave Zimbabwe within the next 72 hours.”
In a separate written statement, Mumbengegwi said Ambassador Taher Elmagrahi and staff would have just 48 hours to leave the country. Officials did not immediately clarify which deadline would apply.
Zimbabwe, whose President Robert Mugabe has close ties to Gaddafi based on their shared anti-Western stance, has stood fast in its refusal to recognise the TNC even as the rebels have closed in on near-complete control over Libya.
At the height of a fuel crisis that threatened to bring Zimbabwe’s economy to its knees, Gaddafi visited Zimbabwe and pledged to supply oil to the southern African country in exchange for land to grow tobacco.
Lovemore Madhuku, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe, said the envoy’s expulsion was not surprising.
“Zimbabwe has always stood by the Gaddafi regime and they will go to any length to support him,” Madhuku said.
“They will fight with Kadhafi to the end, and the ambassador’s expulsion is part of solidarity among African Union members.”
Elmagrahi last Wednesday led fellow Libyans in Harare in burning portraits of Gaddafi and lowering the green flag synonymous with his regime.
The embassy replaced the flag with that of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion, the red, black and green banner from independence in 1951.
Elmagrahi announced he had thrown his support behind the rebels, saying he had written to Zimbabwe’s foreign ministry informing officials of his defection.
“From today, August 24, we follow the Libyan majority, the Libyan people, through our National Transitional Authority,” he told journalists.
“We are here representing the Libyan people and not Gaddafi. I am not Gaddafi’s ambassador. I represent the Libyan people.”
The celebration came a day after rebels overran Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound, raising their flag and ripping the head off his statue.
But on Tuesday the embassy had replaced the rebels’ flag with the African Union banner.
Mugabe has condemned the NATO-led attacks on Gaddafi targets in Libya as “callous”, saying the Western coalition wants to kill the long-term leader to help itself to Libyan oil.
Rebel leaders on Tuesday gave Gaddafi’s last loyalists until Saturday to surrender or face a military onslaught.