Malawi lifts travel ban on Zambia's Sata
Lilongwe - Malawi said on Thursday it had lifted an entry ban on Zambia's new president, Michael Sata, trying to head off a diplomatic spat before hosting a major regional conference next month.
President Bingu wa Mutharika's government arrested Sata in 2007 when the then opposition politician entered Malawi to visit a former president. Sata was bundled into a car, driven several hundred kilometres, dumped at the border and told he could never come back.
Presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba said Sata could no longer be treated as a "prohibited immigrant" now that he was a head of state.
"Under such circumstances, the fear of immigration embarrassment in Malawi for President Sata cannot arise in international diplomacy," Ntaba said in a statement.
Prior to the announcement, Zambian media had said that Sata would not go to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa summit in Malawi because of the way he was treated by Mutharika's government.
Mutharika has also strained ties with major aid donor Britain by expelling its ambassador over a leaked diplomatic cable in which the envoy called the Malawian leader autocratic.
He has faced international criticism and further losses of aid for his impoverished state after his forces killed 20 people in an anti-government rally in July.
Opposition leader Sata won an election early this month in a peaceful transfer of power in Zambia, a rarity in Africa, where elections are often rigged or results ignored, with many leaders trying to subvert the democratic process through force.
Sata sued the Malawian authorities and the case is still in court. Malawi has never disclosed the reasons why it deported Sata.