HARARE (Reuters) - United Nations human rights expert Manfred Nowak was deported from Zimbabwe on Thursday after being detained by security officials on arrival overnight, a U.N. official said.
"We are boarding the plane to Johannesburg now," the official said by mobile phone from Harare airport.
Nowak said he had been invited to Zimbabwe by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai whose power-sharing deal with President Robert Mugabe is under severe strain.
The Austrian academic, reached by Reuters on his mobile phone late on Wednesday, said: "I had not anticipated this. This is a serious diplomatic incident."
On Wednesday night a Reuters reporter saw the U.N. Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment being approached by four security officials at Harare airport after he had cleared immigration.
His passport was taken by the officials, who later led him and two colleagues back to a VIP lounge where they were to be detained overnight.
Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper accused Nowak of trying to "gatecrash into the country".
The newspaper said Nowak had been informed by the government that he could not visit because the country was hosting foreign ministers from regional body the Southern African Development Community's organ on politics, defence and security.
"Government had already communicated to him that he would have to visit on a later date," the Herald said.
The SADC delegation will be reviewing the power-sharing agreement.
Renewed tensions have emerged between Mugabe and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has stopped cooperation with Mugabe's ZANU-PF in the unity government.
Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, formed a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai to end months of feuding in the impoverished country.
But Tsvangirai said two weeks ago he was boycotting the arrangement until problems had been resolved.
Nowak's invitation marked the first time Zimbabwe had offered to open up to an expert working for the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The urgency of an objective fact-finding by an independent U.N. expert was highlighted by allegations of the arrest, intimidation and harassment of MDC supporters and of human rights defenders in the past few days, the U.N. said.
(Writing by Marius Bosch; editing by Robin Pomeroy)