Sunday, December 21, 2008

How Mad Bob gets his bullets

Large quantities of weapons continue to be shipped to Zimbabwe via the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to a new report by the United Nations.

Logistical support from Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe's close allies in the government and armed forces of the strife-torn DRC is crucial to this process, evidence obtained by investigators suggests.

The final report of the group of experts on the DRC, submitted to the UN Security Council last week, says it is possible that the Congolese armed forces "may also be exporting weapons and ammunition to other countries in the region".

The UN report skirts the issue of the precise route by which the weapons arrive in the DRC. However, unverified intelligence documents seen by the Mail & Guardian suggest that at least two countries in the Southern African Development Community are allowing shipments from China to land for onward transport to Zimbabwe via intermediaries including the DRC.

The report and other documents seen by the M&G show that shipments of AK-47 rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades appear to have been routed through a sequence of intermediary countries. This is an apparent attempt to evade detection and subsequent outcry such as that surrounding the arrival of the Chinese arms ship An Yue Jiang in South African waters in June.

The report cites a series of flights between Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Harare, which "transported a total of 53 tons of ammunition destined to the Zimbabwean army". The flights took place between August 20 and 22 this year, at a time of escalating repression in Zimbabwe.

The UN report says the ammunition was carried by a Boeing 707 with the registration number 9Q-CRM. The aircraft is operated by Congolese company EWA, which aviation industry sources say is closely associated with Congolese President Josef Kabila.

The M&G has seen some of the documentation underlying the report, which makes it clear that the consignments from Kinshasa mainly comprised 7,62 millimetre rounds of the kind used in AK-47 assault rifles. The shipments were coordinated by senior officers of the Congolese and Zimbabwean armies.

"As the Democratic Republic of the Congo does not produce weapons or ammunition, this stock would have been imported to the Democratic Republic of the Congo without notification and then possibly exported in violation of the original end-user agreement with the original exporter," the report says.

Numerous international investigations have found that Kabila's forces received crucial support from the Zimbabwean army during fighting in the mineral-rich east of the country. This process forged close ties between high-ranking Congolese officials and senior Zimbabwean officers, a number of whom were rewarded with mining concessions.

There has been a crackdown on mining in Zimbabwe's own diamond-rich areas, with the Movement for Democratic Change saying at least 140 "illegal miners" have been killed by police seeking to reassert government control over the diamond fields.

The revelation that military assistance is flowing from the DRC to Zimbabwe at a time when the political climate in both countries is extremely tense may add weight to an international call for an arms embargo against Zimbabwe and tighter oversight of arms going to the DRC.

The United Kingdom, United States, European Union, church leaders and NGOs have called for a ban on weapons sales to Zimbabwe, but the Security Council has yet to act.

Amnesty International this week published an open letter to the Security Council calling for it to extend the existing weapons embargo in the east of the DRC to cover the entire country and to ensure that arms belonging to the peacekeeping force in the DRC are not diverted.

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