Bolivia says top Mexican and Spanish diplomats were declared persona non grata amid an escalating spat over fugitive former government officials. In response, Spain told three Bolivian officials to leave.
Bolivia's interim government on Monday said it was expelling top Mexican and Spanish diplomats amid an escalating dispute over allegations that wanted former Bolivian officials sought to leave their refuge at the Mexican Embassy with Spanish help and flee the country.
Bolivian caretaker President Jeanine Anez said the Mexican ambassador, the Spanish charge d'affaires and the Spanish consul were all ordered to leave the country within 72 hours.
"The constitutional government that I preside over has decided to declare persona non grata the ambassador of Mexico in Bolivia, Maria Teresa Mercado, the charge d'affaires of Spain, Cristina Borreguero, and the consul, Alvaro Fernandez," Anez said.
Bolivia also said it had expelled six Spanish security officials it alleges took part in the attempt. The six left the country on Sunday.
Spain said three Bolivian officials were asked to leave the country in response to the "hostile gesture."
The dispute centers around nine former officials in the government of ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales who have been charged with sedition, terrorism and electoral fraud. They have been banned from leaving the country and been holed up in the Mexican Embassy after being offered asylum there.
Tit for tat
Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Maximiliano Reyes said on Monday that his government had not made a decision to declare Bolivia's ambassador persona non grata in response to the move by La Paz, but would look to keep communications channels open.
Both Spain and Mexico say the incident at the center of the Bolivian allegations occurred when Spain's charge d'affaires Borreguero paid a visit to Mexico's ambassador on Friday. Spain's Foreign Ministry has said her presence at the embassy was a "courtesy visit" and nothing more.
Morales resigned last month after widespread protests triggered by disputed October elections. He has labeled his ousting a right-wing "coup." He was subsequently granted asylum in Mexico and is now in Argentina.
Bolivia's interim government has warned of a "very serious problem" for Mexico if its embassy does not hand over wanted officials from Morales' government, while Mexico has accused La Paz of "harassment and intimidation" because of the deployment of police and intelligence officers outside the building.
Mexico said last Thursday that it was asking the International Court of Justice to mediate the dispute.
Read more: Mexican President Lopez Obrador says Bolivia's leader Morales was a 'victim of a coup'
tj/cw (AP, AFP, Reuters)