Zimbabwe summons US diplomat over minister's body search

HARARE (AFP) - Zimbabwe said on Tuesday it had summoned the US ambassador in Harare over the frisking of its foreign minister on a recent trip to the United States.

Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi was asked to go through security checks at New York's JFK airport, in an apparent denial of diplomatic privilege.

Permanent secretary Joey Bimha said ministry officials had on Monday met the US ambassador Bruce Wharton following the airport incident.

"I confirm we met the ambassador yesterday," Bimha told AFP.

"He has since apologised and said he is going to find out what happened." Mumbengegwi was returning home after attending the UN General Assembly as part of the entourage accompanying President Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's relations with the United States strained after Washington imposed targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe following elections in 2002, which western observers said were rigged to hand Mugabe victory.

The sanctions include travel restrictions on Mugabe and members of his inner circle and a freeze of assets belonging to Mugabe's allies or entities with links to him and his ruling ZANU-PF party.

In 2005, Zimbabwe threatened to expel the then ambassador Christopher Dell for allegedly interfering in its political affairs.

Dell was also reprimanded for entering a restricted area of the national botanical gardens in Harare.

The US rejected the results of the last July elections which extended Mugabe's 33-year rule on grounds that the polls were not credible.

The results were also disputed by Mugabe's main rival Morgan Tsvangirai as "a massive fraud."