- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

DURBAN, South Africa — The Bush administration cautioned China yesterday against additional weapons shipments to landlocked Zimbabwe after nations in southern Africa blocked a Chinese ship from delivering mortars, rockets and bullets to the government of President Robert Mugabe.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate at this point, given the political upheaval that’s occurring in Zimbabwe, for anyone to be adding extra tinder to that situation by providing additional weapons to Zimbabwe security forces,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

Mr. Casey’s remarks came after authorities in Beijing confirmed that a ship with weapons and ammunition destined for Zimbabwe may have to return because no southern African port is willing to unload the cargo.

A South African newspaper reported that China was preparing a second shipment of considerably more sophisticated Chinese weaponry destined for Zimbabwe to be flown to Harare from China within the next week.

“It was going to be taken by aircraft to expedite the delivery and to circumvent the controversy around last week’s shipment by sea,” the newspaper Beeld reported.

Mr. Casey said he could not confirm the report.

The Chinese-registered freighter, the An Yue Jiang, arrived at the South African port of Durban last week. While the government of South Africa took no official action, dockside unions refused to unload the weapons.

The ship applied but was refused permission to unload its cargo in Mozambique, Namibia and Angola, from which the cargo would have been transported by road or rail to Zimbabwe.

Namibia allowed the vessel to refuel on the condition that the cargo remain on board.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said, “I hope this will be the case with all the countries because we don’t want a situation which will escalate the tension in Zimbabwe more than what it is.”

The South African government has maintained its position that it could not interfere in a trade matter between China and Zimbabwe.

But Randall Howard, general secretary of the 300,000-strong South African Transport & Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), said that even if the cargo found its way ashore, his members would not drive or handle the goods on the 600-mile journey to the border with Zimbabwe.

“SATAWU does not agree with the position of the South African government not to intervene with this shipment of weapons,” Mr. Howard said.

“Our members will not unload [the ship], neither will our members in the truck-driving sector move this cargo by road,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the weapons were ordered last year and were “perfectly normal.”

But she said the vessel’s owners were ready to bring the ship back because it was proving impossible for Zimbabwe to receive the arms.

South African labor unions have been critical of President Thabo Mbeki for not taking a tougher line against Mr. Mugabe, who is locked in an election stalemate with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) over the delay of results from a March 29 election.

The elections are widely thought to have been won by the MDC.

The MDC says that 10 of its members have been killed by government militia and that the state has set up torture camps to punish those who voted for the opposition.

Mr. Mbeki has maintained that his policy of “quiet diplomacy” will eventually see a switch to democracy in Zimbabwe, where Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front has ruled since the end of white-minority rule in 1980.

Western countries, including the United States, have repeatedly called for tougher action from South Africa and have refused to recognize the outcome of elections in 2002 and 2005 that returned Mr. Mugabe to power, citing widespread reports of torture, violence and rigging.

The concerted action of southern African countries in turning back the An Yue Jiang is seen locally as a blow to South Africa’s soft approach.

But even within the ruling African National Congress (ANC), there has been a move to isolate Mr. Mbeki over the issue.

In Germany yesterday, ANC leader Jacob Zuma, who in December deposed Mr. Mbeki as head of the party, called for tougher action on Zimbabwe.

Speaking about the delay in releasing results from the March election, Mr. Zuma said the action was “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,” Mr. Zuma told the Reuters news agency in Berlin.

“Leaders in Africa should really move in to unlock this logjam,” he said.

In Harare, Zimbabwean Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, defended his country’s right to “protect itself,” by purchasing weapons from any source.

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