Zimbabwe Arms Shipped By China Spark An Uproar

Zimbabwe Arms Shipped By China Spark An Uproar
April 19th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Zimbabwe Arms Shipped By China Spark An Uproar

Zimbabwe Arms Shipped By China Spark An Uproar
New York Times
April 19, 2008
Pg. 1
By Celia W. Dugger
JOHANNESBURG — A Chinese ship loaded with armaments for Zimbabwe steamed into the port of Durban this week and set off a political firefight, putting newfound pressure on South Africa — and now China — to reduce support for Zimbabwe’s government as it cracks down on its rivals after a disputed election.
Dock workers at the port, backed by South Africa’s powerful unions, refused to unload the ammunition and weapons on Friday, vowing protests and threatening violence if the government tried to do it without them.
Meanwhile, the Anglican archbishop of the province appealed to South Africa’s High Court to bar transporting the arms across South Africa, arguing that they were likely to be used to repress Zimbabweans. The court agreed, and by late Friday the ship had pulled up anchor and set sail.
The arms shipment was ordered from China before the elections, but its arrival amid Zimbabwe’s political crisis illuminated deep fissures within South Africa over how to respond, and brought new scrutiny on China at a time when its human rights record is already under fire for suppressing protesters in Tibet and supplying arms to the government of Sudan.
Three weeks after Zimbabwe’s presidential election, officials there have yet to announce the outcome. Independent monitors believe the governing party trailed behind its main rival, the Movement for Democratic Change, but the government has responded by systematically beating, arresting and harassing its opponents, human rights groups say.
The Chinese ship, packed with ammunition, rockets and mortar bombs, quickly became a symbol of clashing approaches to the Zimbabwean dilemma: Should South Africa confront Zimbabwe’s autocratic president, Robert Mugabe, in power for 28 years, or continue to pursue the policy of quiet diplomacy that has drawn international criticism?
For China, long an ally of Mr. Mugabe’s, the opening of a new front of controversy is equally thorny. Despite its sensitivity to criticism as it prepares to hold the Olympic Games this summer, it is wooing African nations in hopes of building its diplomatic clout and securing access to minerals and other resources.
For the union, though, the matter seemed clear. Randall Howard, general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, said the dock workers had no intention of allowing the cargo to be unloaded. “If they bring in replacement labor to do the work, our members will not stand and look at them and smile,” he said.
But the government, led by the African National Congress, a party that counts the trade unions among its most important partners, took a far more conciliatory approach, giving Zimbabwe’s military a helping hand at the border.
In fact, the South African government on Friday was actively helping Zimbabwe to clear the shipment through customs. South Africa’s defense secretary, January Masilela, said in an interview on Friday that the National Conventional Arms Control Committee’s scrutiny committee, of which he is the chairman, had issued a permit to move the goods from Durban to Harare.
With a go-ahead from superiors, Armscor, South Africa’s arms procurement agency, was busy lining up the needed documentation. “We are sorting out the paperwork necessary to get the consignment cleared by customs, like a normal shipping clearance agent,” said Armscor’s spokesman, Bertus Celliers.
Themba Maseko, a spokesman for the South African government, explained in regretful tones the government’s rationale: No international body has yet imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe. And so South Africa has little choice, as the trading hub, but to allow a deal between two other countries, even if it is unhappy with a particular transaction.
“So it would be difficult for South Africa to prevent the delivery of any kind of goods, including weaponry,” he said. “It is our hope that these arms were not ordered because of the current impasse and that the guns will not be used to resolve the political problems in Zimbabwe.”
China took a somewhat similar stance, describing the shipment as standard business with Zimbabwe. “China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude toward arm sales,” its Foreign Ministry told Reuters. “One of the most important principles is not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”
But as the clashing views over the arms shipment show, the political conflict in Zimbabwe has spilled well over its border with South Africa to become a highly charged moral and political issue.
The South African government’s handling of the arms shipment has intensified questions about whether President Thabo Mbeki, the region’s official mediator in the Zimbabwean crisis, has the credibility to negotiate a way out of a deepening stalemate.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the presidential candidate of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said Thursday that Mr. Mbeki should be replaced. Mr. Mbeki stirred outrage and ridicule in South Africa when he said last Saturday, just before an emergency meeting of regional leaders on Zimbabwe, that there was no crisis there — a remark he offered while he affectionately held hands with the 84-year-old Mr. Mugabe in Harare.
Mr. Tsvangirai’s prospects dimmed further on Friday when the opposition’s court case to bar a recount of crucial parliamentary seats failed. That set up the possibility that the only victory the opposition had been able to secure in the elections — winning control of Parliament’s lower house — would now be overturned in a recount.
The brouhaha over the arms shipment started with a phone call on Monday from what Martin Welz, editor of Noseweek, a monthly, Cape Town-based investigative magazine, described as “a whistle blower of conscience.”
The caller provided Noseweek with what Mr. Welz identified as the commercial invoice, bill of lading and packing list for the shipment. The documents show that Poly Technologies Inc., a Chinese, state-owned arms company, was shipping ammunition, as well as rockets, mortar bombs and mortar tubes, to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Defense.
The shipment weighed 77 tons and was valued at $1.245 million. The invoice was dated Jan. 21, and the goods apparently left the China on March 15.
On that same date, South African officials say they received written notification from the shipping company that the ship, called An Yue Jiang, was coming from China to Durban carrying restricted goods.
In recent days, the clamor about the arms shipment has grown ever louder.
On Friday afternoon, Rubin Phillip, the Anglican archbishop of KwaZulu-Natal, and Gerald Patrick Kearney, who formerly headed a public interest foundation, assisted by the Southern African Litigation Center, urgently appealed to South Africa’s High Court to temporarily prohibit transporting the arms across South Africa.
“For the South African government to actively facilitate the transfer of arms in these circumstances is a violation of its constitutional obligations and an abdication of its regionally mandated role to bring about a peaceful resolution of the crisis,” said Nicole Fritz, who heads the litigation center.
Mr. Phillip, Mr. Kearney and the lawyers argued that South Africa’s 2002 law on conventional arms included guidelines that directed the government to consider, in deciding whether to give permits for the transport of weapons, whether the government receiving the arms was committing human rights violations.
Late Friday afternoon, a judge in Durban granted their request. But on Friday evening, when the authorities drove out to the Chinese ship, An Yeu Jiang, to serve the court order, it pulled up anchor and moved off, according to a South African government official and Ms. Fritz.
According to Ms. Fritz, the last radio transmission the authorities heard from the ship was this: “Next port, Maputo,” referring to the capital of Mozambique.

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