Malawi, UK envoy spat continues

2011-05-23 20:51

Blantyre - Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika said on Monday his country had "initiated dialogue" with Britain aimed at defusing a diplomatic spat that has seen the countries expel each other's envoys.

"With regard to Malawi's bilateral relations with the United Kingdom, I wish to assure this august house [parliament] that both Malawi and Britain are committed to strengthen such relations in all aspects," Mutharika said as he opened parliament's budget session in the capital, Lilongwe.

The poor southern African nation last month expelled British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet after the publication of a leaked cable in which he criticised the Malawian president for becoming "ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism".

Britain, Malawi's largest donor, retaliated by expelling the Malawian acting high commissioner to Britain, Flossie Chidyaonga Gomile, announcing it would withhold aid until it reviews its ties with the country.

Using a reconciliatory tone on Monday, Mutharika said the two countries were on speaking terms again.

"Genuine dialogue and consultations have been initiated and I am confident that a new modus operandi will be agreed to the mutual regard of our shared common vision and interests," he said.

"We expect our development partners to continue to support us," he added.

Malawi relies on Western donors, including Britain, to bankroll 40% of its development budget.

Malawi gained its independence from Britain in 1964 and London remains the biggest single donor to the impoverished nation, where half the 13 million citizens live on less than a dollar a day.

But Britain slashed its aid by $4.9m last year after expressing concern at the government's purchase of a $13.26m jet for Mutharika, who ends his second and final five-year term in 2014.

Western donors in March threatened to cut their budget support to Malawi, criticising the country for new media restrictions and uncertainty around local elections that were originally planned for April 20.

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