20 May 2008

Zimbabwe: 'Ship of Shame' Cargo Delivered to Country

Windhoek — ZIMBABWE has confirmed that a consignment of weapons on board the Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang, have landed in the violence-riddled country.

Five weeks ago, dockworkers in the South African port of Durban refused to handle the 'ship of shame's' six container-loads of arms for Zimbabwe.

The Chinese ship eventually left without unloading, after a coalition of South African and international human-rights organisations, along with church groups, widely publicised the issue.

Since then, the An Yue Jiang's location and destination have been a mystery.

But as Mugabe's government confirmed that the weapons had been received, South Africa's Business Day newspaper and the Mozambican online newspaper Canal de Moçambique yesterday published details of how the vessel got the weapons to Mugabe.

This was confirmed by Zimbabwe's deputy information minister Bright Matonga.

Three weeks ago, two senior Zimbabwean ministers and two top army officers flew to Angola, where the An Yue Jiang had stopped en route to the port of Ponta Negra in Congo-Brazzaville, to negotiate the offloading of the weapons.

The assistance to the Mugabe regime came despite an appeal by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) chairman, 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.

China had also announced that the ship was ordered to return home without offloading.

The arms were flown from the Congo-Brazzaville port of Ponta Negra to Harare in giant transport aircraft belonging to Avient Aviation, a UK-registered freight charter airline operating out of Zimbabwe.

The lethal cargo consisted of three million rounds of assault rifle ammunition, 3 000 mortar rounds and 1 500 rocket-propelled grenades - ordered from the Chinese government.

Civil society groups earlier expressed fear that Mugabe was planning to use force to storm back to power in the presidential runoff election that will be held on June 27.

He has already deployed the army, police and intelligence units across Zimbabwe to campaign for him through intimidation and coercive tactics, prompting the United Nations to warn of violence getting out of hand.

Mozambican online newspaper Canal de Moçambique reported that the 'ship of shame' 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 say it was offloaded in Angola.

The Canal de Moçambique article also says 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 UK.

This was confirmed by government officials in Harare.

The reports said the ship was secretly refuelled offshore by SAS Drakensberg, then rounded the Cape of Good Hope from the Indian Ocean into the Atlantic and headed for Ponta Negra.

South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union general secretary Randall Howard, whose dockworker members had refused to unload the An Yue Jiang, said Southern African trade unions and civil society were in despair at the news that the arms had reached Mugabe.

"It shows a serious lack of respect for international solidarity by Angola and Congo-Brazzaville and it is an injustice to the people of Zimbabwe," said Howard.

"Both the Chinese government and Cosco, the state-owned shipping company that sent the An Yue Jiang to Africa, have regrettably demonstrated that profiteering remains the overriding consideration over human solidarity and saving lives."

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