Arms trade still fuels Zim

Arms and ammunition manufactured in Zimbabwe could be finding its way to Western markets, despite sanctions on President Robert Mugabe’s government, according to a new international report.

Zimbabwe — Arms and Corruption: Fuelling Human Rights Abuses, prepared by conflict researchers International Peace Information Service (Ipis), states that Mugabe is still able to profit from an arms trade that includes agents from Europe and the United States. Zimbabwe also continues to exploit the close relationship it has with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to acquire weapons.

Zimbabwe and the DRC have sustained an eight-year partnership, the Congo-Duka company, first set up to facilitate the movement of arms and food to the DRC at the height of the war in the central African country.

Citing a United Nations report released last year in which the DRC was accused of re-exporting arms to Zimbabwe, the report says that in the space of 48 hours last August, 53 tons of ammunition were allegedly flown from the DRC to Harare. Enterprise World Airways, a company said to have links to members of the Kinshasa government, was used to transport the cargo.

The report claims to have documents that show a Czech company, Arms Moravia, lists the Zimbabwe National Army as a client in a handwritten document.

Arms traders in Europe and the US may have disguised the destination of arms to ”circumvent controls on the transfers of arms and ammunition to state forces with a perceived record of serious human rights violations, by presenting licensing authorities with an alternative destination”.

Zimbabwe has been under a Western arms embargo since 1998, when it intervened in the DRC war to prop up Laurent Kabila’s government.

Ipis says possible leakages in the arms embargo on Zimbabwe underline the need for an effective arms trade treaty (ATT). ”An ATT would require all parties to prohibit international transfers of conventional arms and ammunition in circumstances where there is a substantial risk that such transfers would be used to facilitate serious violations of international human rights law.”

A team sent last June by the UN Security Council’s group of experts on the DRC to locate the controversial cargo carried by a Chinese vessel, the An Yue Jiang, heard from staff of state ammunitions-maker Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) that the arms had indeed arrived in Zimbabwe.

This was corroborated by a senior military expert in Harare, who told the Mail & Guardian that the air force of Zimbabwe would have used one of its two Illyushin II-76 carriers to ship the arms into Manyame air base, just south of the Zimbabwean capital.

The new report also alleges collusion among Western arms dealers to provide a market for Zimbabwean arms.

”Zimbabwe’s defence industry remains interlinked with European and US arms dealers, engaging in transactions that not only benefit Zimbabwe’s state arms manufacturer, but that also exemplify the inadequacy of European and US measures to stop European and US arms companies [from] engaging in arms deals with sanctioned companies and regimes, mediated by individuals listed on government arms trafficking watchlists.”

Experts in Harare said ZDI had long been ”a strong and leading” supplier of ammunition to the US prior to the arms embargo. Its ”Cheetah” brand of ammunition ”was much sought after in that market”.

But the US market would have dwindled significantly with the stricter attention given to any flow of arms from Zimbabwe, they said. ”The ZDI would have little knowledge of where the hardware ends up now. They have supplied arms to governments and contractors from Africa to Asia for years, but there’s no real guarantee where it ends up,” one source familiar with Zimbabwe’s arms industry said.

The company manufactures ammunition at two plants outside Harare.

The US government bolstered the arms embargo when it placed the ZDI on the US sanctions list in 2005, banning its citizens from directly or indirectly trading with Zimbabwe. The ZDI maintains it remains in compliance with UN regulations on trade in ammunition.

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Jason Moyo
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