Published on NYT, by CELIA W. DUGGER, April 19, 2008.
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 …
(page 2): … 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. (full long text).