Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Zim arms ship to dock in Namibia

A CHINESE ship carrying six containers of ammunition for Zimbabwe has applied to take on fuel at Walvis Bay this morning. The An Yue Jiang is carrying three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition,
1 500 rocket-propelled grenades and more than 3 000 mortar rounds and mortar ubes.

Attempts to get comment from Government yesterday were unsuccessful.Messages were left for Minister of Information, Joel Kaapanda, but he had not returned them by the time of going to press. Yesterday, the Legal Assistance Centre said it would approach the High Court to stop the ship from entering Namibia at Walvis Bay.

Interviewed on One Africa TV News last night, Kaapanda said he didn't know anything about the ship. He said if it docked at Walvis Bay, Government would consider "any appropriate measures", but did not elaborate.

The Minister said he wondered why such a big deal was being made about the ship. The vessel is carrying a lethal cargo. He noted that Zimbabwe was a landlocked country and often used Walvis

"I don't understand why this ship is so special," he said. The LAC called on all concerned citizens in Namibia to raise their voice against the An Yue Jiang docking in a Namibian harbour.

The ship left the South African port of Durban last week after dockworkers refused to unload the shipment and the Durban High Court barred its cargo from being transported to landlocked Zimbabwe.

The LAC's partners in South Africa - the Southern African Litigation Centre and the International Action Network on Small Arms - obtained a court order that the weapons could not be transported through South Africa. The vessel is now reported to be heading to either Walvis Bay or Luanda in Angola.

"Our concern is that Zimbabwe is a nation that has been in an escalating state of crisis," said Norman Tjombe, Director of the LAC. "To allow more weapons to enter Zimbabwe will only fuel more violence, with the serious consequence of more deaths and suffering."

The escalating violation and suppression of human rights in Zimbabwe was exacerbated by last month's disputed elections, of which the results have yet to be announced, he said.

"Namibia, and its institutions, such as the Namibia Ports Authority, has obligations under national and international law to foster international peace and the peaceful resolutions of disputes, and the responsibility and accountability in the regulation and control of the trade in conventional
arms," said Tjombe.

He said in terms of the Namibian Constitution, the Namibian State is obligated to promote international co-operation, peace and security and foster respect for international law and treaty obligations.

Namibia was also a signatory to several other international treaties, such as SADC Firearms Protocol, Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security, and the UN Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, which would all be violated if it allowed arms to enter Zimbabwe, he said.

"In the light of these obligations, it will be prudent for the Namibia Ports Authority not to allow the offloading of the deadly cargo of the An Yue Jiang vessel if and when the vessel calls on any port in Namibia," Tjombe said.

If the ship was allowed to offload and transport overland in Namibia, he said, the LAC would approach the courts. "We nonetheless trust that Namibia would adhere to its obligations under the Constitution and international law, without the need for us to approach the High Court of Namibia," Tjombe said.

Transport workers in Africa were also called on to help prevent the shipment from reaching Zimbabwe. The International Transport Workers Federation said its member trade unions and the International Trade Union Confederation must stop what it calls the "dangerous and destabilising shipment."

The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) has also appealed to the governments of SADC, especially Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, to prevent the arms cargo from reaching its destination.

Trade unionists in the South African transport industry also announced a boycott of the cargo. IANSA wants the weaponry detained until Zimbabwe can prove it will not be misused to suppress the Zimbabwean people.

"We remind all southern African countries, including neighbouring Namibia and Mozambique, that they have ratified the Southern African Development Community 2004 Firearms Protocol," said IANSA communications officer, Louise Rimmer.

South African and international law has been used to prevent the transportation of these arms to Zimbabwe across South Africa, so other SADC authorities must stop it too."

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