Friday, April 18, 2008

South Africa Turns Back Ship Carrying Weapons To Zimbabwe

A ship carrying arms to Zimbabwe has left South African waters after a court refused to allow the weapons to be transported across South Africa. The An Yue Jiang, a Chinese ship, had been at anchor off Durban on South Africa's Indian Ocean coast since Monday, turning into a flashpoint for trade unions and others critical of President Thabo Mbeki's quiet diplomacy toward Zimbabwe. The 300,000-strong South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) refused to unload the weapons because of concerns Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government might use them against opponents in the post-election stalemate. Several hours after Durban High Court Judge Kate Pillay gave her ruling the ship lifted anchor and left, SAPA said, citing sources that requested anonymity. It was not clear where it was going. Pillay issued her ruling after an Anglican bishop and another activist filed an application asking the court to block the arms in a politically charged case that has raised scrutiny of South Africa's policy on Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean officials have failed to issue results of the March 29 presidential election. Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the presidential poll and his party took a majority of the parliamentary seats. Mugabe and his supporters are preparing for a run-off as well as challenging some of the parliamentary results. "We are concerned that the current standoff could mean the arms would fall into the hands of those who want to use military force against the people of Zimbabwe," SATAWU General Secretary Randall Howard told Reuters on Friday. "The South African government cannot be seen as propping up a military regime," he said, adding that workers were refusing to handle four containers on the ship that contained ammunition and other arms.
An Yue Jiang
A South African government spokesman confirmed that weapons were aboard the ship but said the government would not interfere with what it regarded as a trade matter between China and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's deputy information minister, Bright Matonga, said on Friday that no party had the right to stop the shipment. "Every country has got a right to acquire arms. There is nothing wrong with that. If they are for Zimbabwe, they will definitely come to Zimbabwe," he told South Africa's SAFM radio. "How they are used, when they are going to be used is none of anybody's business." The row over the ship has added to the pressure on Mbeki, who has been acting as a regional mediator between Mugabe and Zimbabwe's opposition and has come under fire for taking a relatively soft line on Mugabe's government. Tsvangirai called on Thursday for Mbeki to be removed as a mediator. For its part, China 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. Violent protests have followed the Olympic torch across the globe. China's Foreign Ministry said in a short faxed statement to Reuters that it had seen the reports about the ship, but "did not understand the actual situation". "China and Zimbabwe maintain normal trade relations. What we want to stress is China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude towards arms sales, and one of the most important principles is not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries," the statement said.

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