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By Fiona Forde
Zimbabwe is not only stockpiling modern weapons, but is circumventing sanctions by exporting arms to the US via Eastern Europe, according to a report to be released this week.
According to the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), a Belgian research hub, the situation in Zimbabwe is a good example of why the UN-proposed Arms Trade Treaty needs to be as comprehensive as possible.
Throughout last year, when the political climate was at its most volatile, the IPIS tracked shipments of arms in and out of the country. It says they not only pose a threat to Zimbabweans, but outline the dubious nature of arms deals that continue to take place with a country that is heavily sanctioned.
In the space of 48 hours last August, 53 tons of ammunition were allegedly flown from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Harare, say report authors Brian Johnson-Thomas and Peter Danssaert.
The ammunition was flown by Enterprise World Airways, aboard a Boeing 707-3B4C aircraft registered as 9Q-CRM.
The first shipment on August 21 contained 32 tons of 7.62mmx54 cartridges. Two days later a second shipment arrived, containing 20 tons of 7.62mmx39 cartridges, which are used in AK-47s. The ammunition arrived in Zimbabwe four months after a controversial arms consignment from China was turned away at Durban, only to be flown into the country later from Angola, the report claims.
Despite denials from Luanda and Beijing, an employee of the state-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industry (ZDI) in Harare told IPIS that the shipment, which contained mortar bombs, rockets and ammunition, had arrived in the country.
"Zimbabwe has no national legislation on the import, export or transit of arms and ammunition that conforms to international standards," the report's authors say, suggesting the country's borders are dangerously permeable and proof of what happens when no arms treaty is in place.
All does not have to be lost in the absence of a treaty, Guy Lamb of the Institute of Security Studies argues.
"Illicit and corrupt arms trading, as well as arms transfers to conflict zones or countries where governments are responsible for human rights abuses, can be restricted in Africa by more comprehensive and consistent implementation of existing regional arms control agreements at national level," the head of the arms management programme at the institute said. "Examples include the SADC firearms control protocol and the Nairobi small arms and light weapons protocol."
However, what could happen and what does happen are two very different things.
The researchers also tracked the shipment of 1 349 stripped MAG58 machinegun bodies, 2 051 barrels and various other machinegun parts from Harare to Podgorica airport in Montenegro in February last year, which they claim later found their way to the US in a roundabout deal that breached sanctions imposed by the government of George W Bush.
According to the airway bill, or shipping document, the consignment was dispatched by the ZDI to its Montenegran counterpart, a deal they say was brokered by Swiss company BT International.
An investigation into the deal pointed to Ohio Ordnance Works as the recipient of the gun parts. The company supplies the US armed forces and previously supplied the allied forces in Iraq. When contacted by The Sunday Independent, Montenegro's Department of Defence declined to comment.
Given that ZDI is a sanctioned company the report suggests the deal "may have been to evade US sanctions on Zimbabwean individuals and entities".
The authors also note that only two countries voted against pushing ahead with the proposed Arms Trade Treaty at the UN General Assembly last October, namely the US and Zimbabwe.
South Africa voted in favour.