/ 17 April 2008

SA won’t interfere with arms destined for Zim

South Africa will not interfere with a shipment of weapons aboard a Chinese ship that is destined for Zimbabwe, government communications head Themba Maseko said on Thursday.

”We are not in a position to act unilaterally and interfere in a trade deal between two countries,” he told a media briefing.

All that South African authorities can do is to make sure that ”all proper administrative processes” are followed.

He said the country cannot stop the shipment from getting to its destination as it has to be seen to be ”treading very carefully” in its relations with Zimbabwe, given the complexity of facilitating talks between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and Zanu-PF following the March 29 elections in that country.

”South Africa is not at all involved in the arrangement,” he said. ”It’s a matter between the two countries. It would be possible, but very difficult, for South Africa to start intervening and saying that we will not allow the shipment through.”

Maseko said the shipment will be allowed through this country’s borders since there is currently no trade embargo against Zimbabwe or regulation to the contrary. However, he added that South Africa is not actively encouraging the purchase of weapons by Zimbabwe.

Die Burger reported on Thursday that the Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang, was carrying three million rounds of ammunition, 3 500 mortars and mortar tubes, and 1 00 rocket-propelled grenades.

On reports that Chinese troops had been spotted in Mutare in Zimbabwe, Maseko said: ”People spot a lot of things. I haven’t heard anything about that.”

The Chinese ship was cleared through customs at Durban on Wednesday, police and transport officials said.

International sanctions imposed by Western countries against Zimbabwe include a ban on weapons sales to the country.

In February a report adopted by the foreign affairs commission of the European Parliament urged the European Union to put pressure on China to stop delivering weapons to African countries, naming Zimbabwe in particular.

Zimbabwe is currently gripped by tensions resulting from the failure by the electoral commission to release the results of the March 29 presidential election. — Sapa, AFP