Controversial Chinese arms arrive in Harare

A controversial shipment of arms from China and destined for Zimbabwe has arrived in Harare, the Weekender newspaper reported on Saturday—apparently thanks to assistance by the South African government.

The report said the Zimbabwean government had confirmed that three million rounds of assault rifle ammunition, 3 000 mortar rounds and 1 500 rocket-propelled grenades—ordered from the Chinese government—had arrived in Harare.

The South African government has denied media reports that it assisted in the delivery of the arms by fuelling the Chinese vessel, the An Yue Jiang, that was transporting the arsenal.

There are fears that President Robert Mugabe is planning to use force to storm back to power in Zimbabwe’s presidential run-off election to be held on June 27. He has deployed the army, police and intelligence units across Zimbabwe to campaign for him through intimidation and coercive tactics, the report said.

The Weekender quoted a Mozambican online newspaper, Canal de Moçambique, which reported that the ship had been refuelled by the SAS Drakensberg off the coast of South Africa before sailing north to offload its deadly cargo.

It reported that the ship was offloaded at Ponta Negra in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, Zimbabwean government officials said it was offloaded in Angola.

Canal de Moçambique reported that President Thabo Mbeki gave “a direct instruction” to Deputy Defence Minister Mluleki George to send the SAS Drakensberg to refuel the An Yue Jiang.

Presidential spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga dismissed the reports, saying “it seems that the season of propaganda is upon us”.

George said he had not received instructions from Mbeki to dispatch the SAS Drakensberg and that the allegations had no substance.

However, the Canal de Moçambique article also said the arms were flown to Harare in an Ilyushin Il-76 belonging to Avient Aviation, a freight charter airline based in Zimbabwe but registered in the United Kingdom. This was confirmed by government officials in Harare, the Weekender said.

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Information Minister, Bright Matonga, confirmed the weapons had been delivered.

The Angolan government’s assistance came after an appeal by Southern African Development Community (SADC) chairperson Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa to member states to bar the delivery of the ammunition to Zimbabwe, saying the arms could deepen the country’s election crisis.

The United States and British governments had also exerted concerted pressure on the SADC and China to stop the ship from docking in the region.

The ship has been spotted off the coast of Port Elizabeth, the Weekender said.—Sapa

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