April 19, 2008 / 11:49 AM / 10 years ago

Zimbabwe arms ship heads for Angola, Mozambique says

MAPUTO (Reuters) - A Chinese ship carrying arms to Zimbabwe which was turned away from South Africa is now heading to Angola in hopes of docking there, the transport minister of Mozambique said on Saturday.

The ship left South African waters on Friday after a court refused to allow the weapons to be transported across South Africa, SAPA news agency said.

Mozambique’s Transport and Communications Minister Paulo Zucula told Reuters that Mozambique has been monitoring the movements of the ship since it lifted anchor and left South Africa.

“We know that it registered its next destination as Luanda because here we wouldn’t allow it into Mozambican waters without prior arrangements”, he said.

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.

Zimbabwean officials have failed to issue results of a March 29 presidential election. Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the presidential poll and his party took a majority of parliamentary seats.

Mugabe and his supporters are preparing for a run-off as well as challenging some of the parliamentary results.

A South African government spokesman confirmed 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.”

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.

Writing by Caroline Drees

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