China yesterday said a shipment of weapons bound for Zimbabwe might return home after the vessel failed to unload in South Africa, but it defended the cargo as “perfectly normal trade”.
Zambia, which chairs the Southern African Development Community grouping, has urged regional States to bar the An Yue Jiang from entering their waters, saying the weapons could deepen Zimbabwe’s election crisis.
The ship was barred from unloading in the South African port of Durban, prompting it to set sail again. Mozambique and Angola have since denied it access to their ports.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Jiang Yu, said the contract for the shipment was signed last year and was “unrelated to recent developments” in Zimbabwe.
Jiang said the arms shipment was “perfectly normal trade in military goods between China and Zimbabwe”, but because it was impossible for Zimbabwe to receive the goods, the company involved is now considering shipping the cargo back to China.
Zimbabwe on Sunday announced a delay in a partial recount of votes in its March 29 elections, which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says it won. The delay extends a deadlock in which the MDC says 10 members have been killed.
“I have nothing against the Chinese, but I do have something against the way they are arming the regime in Zimbabwe with war weapons with which our people will be repressed,” MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio.
South African port workers refused to unload the weapons because of concerns that President Robert Mugabe’s government might use them against opponents in the post-election stalemate.
The ship left South Africa on Friday. Mozambique said on Saturday the vessel would not be allowed into its waters.
Angola said on Monday the ship was not welcome there either.
“This ship has not sought permission to enter Angolan territorial waters and it’s not authorised to enter Angolan ports,” Filomeno Mendonca, director of the Institute of Angolan Ports, told Luanda Radio LAC, a private Angolan radio station.
The vessel’s location and next destination were unclear.
Wang Kun Hui, deputy managing director for Cosren, the shipping agency handling the An Yue Jiang, said its next port of call was uncertain.
“Assuming the container had been discharged in Durban, the next port would be Luanda. But the problem is that the container was not discharged in Durban, so the next port (is) uncertain,” Wang told Reuters from the company’s office in Durban.
Jiang said the decision on what to do next was down to the China Ocean Shipping Group carrying the arms.
Themba Gadebe, spokesman for South Africa’s ministry of defence, yesterday said they were continuing to monitor the shipment, which was somewhere along the west coast of Africa, outside South African territorial waters.
Namibian foreign ministry spokesman, Isaak Hamata, said: “We have not received any official request to dock, refuel or off-load the Chinese ship, but if it does come, we would consider it on its merits.” He said the merits would depend on the content of any request from Zimbabwe’s government.
China, which has expanded trade links with Africa in a bid to secure resources for its economy, is trying to prevent the controversy from fuelling criticism over its human rights record and rule in Tibet ahead of hosting the Olympics in August.
Protests, in some cases violent, have followed the Olympic torch across the globe. – Nampa-Reuters