President Robert Mugabe and Chinese Leader Hu Jintao
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire Photo File
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - - A Chinese ship loaded with arms intended for Zimbabwe was headed to Angola, the agent handling the ship said on Tuesday, as China defended the shipment against international criticism.
"According to the documentation, the next calling port is Angola. This vessel is causing a lot of attention. The information is very sensitive," said Wang Kun Hui, representative of the Cosren shipping agency in Durban.
Asked where exactly in Angola the ship was headed, Wang replied: "Luanda."
The ship, the An Yue Jiang, was carrying three million rounds of assault rifle ammunition, 3,000 mortar rounds and 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades, according to its inventory, published by a South African newspaper.
The ship was forced to abandon plans to offload the arms in the South African port of Durban last week after activists won a court case which prevented it from transporting the load overland to the Zimbabwe border.
There were fears that the arms could be used to crack down on protests following parliamentary and presidential elections in Zimbabwe last month, both of which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says it won.
The shipment was also likely to inflame a debate about China's growing diplomatic and economic role in Africa, which has focussed on the country's links with the Sudanese government, accused of human rights abuses in Darfur.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Tuesday defended the shipment, saying she hoped there would be no attempt to "politicise" the arms cargo, although she hinted that China may be forced to take it back.
"This is normal trade in military products between the two countries. The relevant contract was signed last year and has nothing to do with the situation in Zimbabwe," she told reporters in Beijing.
"As Zimbabwe could not receive the cargo as scheduled, China Ocean Shipping Corp had to give up the Durban port and is now considering carrying back this cargo," she said, referring to the state-owned COSCO shipping firm.
Zimbabwe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party, battling to stay in power after last month's disputed elections, has also defended the regime's right to buy weapons from any legal source.
"It's our sovereign right to defend ourselves, it's our sovereign right to buy weapons from any legitimate source worldwide and we don't need clearance from anyone," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said earlier.
Port authorities in Angola, where President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is a long-time ally of Zimbabwe's veteran leader Robert Mugabe, said on Monday they had not yet received any formal request for authorisation to dock the ship.
Were the weapons to be offloaded in Angola, they would then most likely have to be flown into landlocked Zimbabwe as the countries' common neighbour Zambia is strongly opposed to the arms reaching Harare.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, head of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is mediating in the political crisis in Zimbabwe, said he was "glad" that South Africa had refused the shipment.
"The Chinese can play a very useful role in Zimbabwe without the use of arms. We don't want to escalate the situation in Zimbabwe more than what it is," Mwanawasa was quoted as saying by state media on Tuesday.
Human rights lawyers in Namibia, which lies between South Africa and Angola and where the ship could be forced to stop for refuelling, said they would prevent any possible unloading of the arms in Namibian ports.
International trade unions have mounted a campaign to stop the ship from unloading its arms cargo and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre said it was tracking the ship through South Africa's territorial waters.
China defends weapons for Zimbabwe
Wednesday, April 23
BEIJING (AFP) - - China on Tuesday defended a cache of its weapons headed for Zimbabwe, saying it was part of normal bilateral trade, but suggested the arms might not be delivered due to problems offloading the cargo.
A Chinese ship loaded with weapons destined for Zimbabwe has highlighted Beijing's support for the increasingly isolated African regime, amid new violence surrounding elections there.
"This is normal trade in military products between the two countries," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing. "The relevant contract was signed last year and has nothing to do with the latest situation in Zimbabwe."
Three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and more than 3,000 mortar rounds and mortar tubes were among the cargo on the Chinese ship, according to the inventory published by a South Africa newspaper.
An attempt to offload the ship in the South African port of Durban was unsuccessful, and it was now headed for Angola, according to the most recent reports.
Jiang said China maintained a prudent policy when it sold weapons overseas, and that Beijing sells only a fraction of the arms that are traded globally.
"We hope relevant parties will not politicise this issue," she said.
"As Zimbabwe could not receive the cargo as scheduled, China Ocean-going Shipping Corp had to give up the Durban port and is now considering carrying back this cargo."
The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) said Monday it was mobilising against allowing the Chinese ship, An Yue Jiang, from offloading in any African harbour.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, battling to stay in power after last month's disputed elections, defended its right to buy weapons.
"It's our sovereign right to defend ourselves, it's our sovereign right to buy weapons from any legitimate source worldwide and we don't need clearance from anyone," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said.
ZANU-PF on Monday denied opposition claims of politically-related killings in the aftermath of the polls.
'Genocide' warning in Zimbabwe
Church leaders said that opposition supporters have been abducted, tortured and sometimes killed
Church leaders in Zimbabwe have called for international intervention to prevent the country's post-election crisis decending into "genocide".
Leaders of all church denominations said on Tuesday that people were being tortured, abducted and even murdered in a campaign against opposition supporters.
The statement came as Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), called on African leaders to acknowledge that he won the March 29 presidential election.
He also said that he would offer an "honourable exit' to Robert Mugabe, the current president.
More than three weeks after the polls, no results from the presidential election have been released, and parliamentary ballots from 23 constituencies are being recounted.
In a joint statement, signed by the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, church leaders called for outside help to end the problems that have beset the country since the March 29 poll.
"Organised violence perpetrated against individuals, families and communities who are accused of campaigning or voting for the 'wrong' political party ... has been unleashed throughout the country," the statement said.
"We warn the world that if nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa and elsewhere."
Nelson Chamisa, the MDC spokesman, said that he had visited a hospital in southeastern Zimbabwe on Monday and saw a pregnant woman who had a "wound in her womb'' after been stabbed.
He said he also saw an 85-year-old woman whose legs had been broken.
Chamisa attributed both cases to post-election violence.
State-owned Herald newspaper quoted Patrick Chinamasa, the justice minister, as saying: "They are saying that we are sponsoring acts of politically motivated violence and anyone will be forgiven for thinking that they are the ones who are fomenting genocide in Zimbabwe."
The accusations of violence came as the United States sought to block a Chinese vessel loaded with weapons from reaching Zimbabwe, the Associated Press news agency said.
Washington has told diplomats in South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola to pressure authorities not to allow the An Yue Jiang to dock.
The An Yue Jiang had to abandon plans to offload in South Africa on Friday after dock workers won a court order barring it from transporting the cargo overland to Zimbabwe.
The 300,000-strong South African Transport and Allied Workers Union refused to unload the weapons in Durban, citing concerns that the government of Mugabe might use them to break Zimbabwe's political stalemate.
After Mozambique's refusal for entry into its waters, the An Yue Jiang was reportedly headed to Angola, whose president is a long-time ally of Mugabe.
Filomeno Mendonca, director of the Institute of Angolan Ports, said preventive measures have been taken although the An Yue Jiang has not requested to dock.
"We have warned our ports that this ship does not have authorisation to enter in Angola and therefore will not be assisted in Angola," Mendonca told a local radio station.
Jendayi Frazer, the US state department's Africa expert, is expected to visit the region to underscore US concerns about the arms shipment, and to persuade Zimbabwe's neighbours to pressure the government to publish the election results.
Zanu-PF officials say Zimbabwe has a sovereign right to defend itself and buy weapons from "any legitimate source worldwide".
"I don't understand all this hullabaloo about a lone ship," Chinamasa, the justice minister,said in Harare.
"We don't need clearance from anyone."
Meanwhile, Jacob Zuma, the leader of South Africa's ruling ANC party, said Africa must send a mission to Zimbabwe to end the delay in announcing presidential poll result.
"It's not acceptable. It's not helping the Zimbabwean people who have gone out to ... elect the kind of party and presidential candidate they want, exercising their constitutional right."
His remarks appear to conrtradict those of Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president and former ANC leader, who has long insisted on a discreet approach he calls "quiet diplomacy".