British intelligence intercepted Zimbabwe arms shipments from China – Report

BRITAIN's foreign secret intelligence service (MI6) prevented China from delivering arms and ammunition to Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the hotly disputed 2008 election in which President Robert Mugabe was defeated in the first round of polling.

The controversial cargo, packed into 3080 cases, which arrived at South Africa’s port city of Durban in April 2008 on a China-flagged ship, the An Yue Jiang, included millions of rounds of 7.62mm bullets used in AK47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar bombs and tubes. The cargo was valued at R9.88-million.

Revelations by prominent British journalist and author Gordon Thomas in his latest book, Inside British Intelligence: 100 Years of MI5 and MI6 , published last year, show Britain’s foreign secret intelligence service mounted an operation to thwart the Chinese arms delivery to Zimbabwe in April 2008.

"Britain’s intelligence services have increased surveillance of China over the years because of China’s activities in Africa. In April 2008, MI6 asked for one of the Royal Navy’s nuclear Trident-class submarines to track a floating arsenal of weapons and bombs dispatched by the Beijing regime in China on board a rust-stained freighter, the An Yue Jiang, to President Robert Mugabe’s pariah state of Zimbabwe," Thomas says.

"On board were 1000 rocket-propelled grenades, 2000 mortar rounds, and three million rounds of ammunition. MI6 agents in South Africa believed the arsenal was intended to further cow Zimbabwe’s starving population (after the disputed elections)."

Thomas says Britain, using its MI6 operatives and the Royal Navy’s nuclear Trident-class submarine, tracked the Chinese ship – nicknamed "Freighter of Death" – along the coast to ensure it did not offload the cargo, while London and Washington ratcheted up diplomatic pressure to prevent any country in the region from allowing the delivery of the arms to Mugabe.

"Denied landing rights by dockers in South Africa’s Durban port, the freighter began to wander around the South Atlantic while Chinese officials in the home port of Ningbo sought other ports in Africa where the cargo could be unloaded and sent by road to Zimbabwe," Thomas says.

"Intelligence sources in London confirmed that secret approaches had been made to Equatorial Guinea, Benin and Ivory Coast. None, however, allowed the ship to dock and off-load its weapons."

Thomas says his sources had told him Mugabe could even approach Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to repackage the arms and ship them to Zimbabwe under disguise.

"The Trident – one of the four in the fleet which is based in Faslane on Scotland’s Clyde – continued to track the freighter until it suddenly hurried to its home port late in May 2008," Thomas says.

"The black-hulled Trident submarine covered with sonar-absorbing anechoic tiles tracked the Chinese freighter, sending short-burst communications to the Admiralty in London."

The Chinese ship eventually sailed back home after all countries in the region refused to allow it to offload the weapons.

After whistle-blowers in South Africa uncovered the ship, a storm of protest erupted, forcing the vessel to leave SA waters, setting sail from the Indian Ocean around Cape Town into the Atlantic Ocean headed towards Angola. Together with other countries in the region, Angola refused to welcome the ship.

Durban dockworkers belonging to the country’s largest transport workers union, SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), and a number of civil society organisations, had led the protests to block the shipment. SOURCE: Timeslive