A Chinese ship carrying arms for Zimbabwe has also become freighted in recent days with diplomatic significance as the vessel has sought accommodation and offloading in subsequent Southern African countries, emphasizing Harare's increasing isolation.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa urged African states Tuesday to bar the An Yue Jiang from their waters, saying unloading and transporting of its cargo of weapons to Zimbabwe could deepen the crisis there following elections in late March.
South African dockworkers refused to unload the ship, said to carry 3 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and 2,500 mortar shells. Angolan and Mozambican officials subsequently signaled it is unwelcome in their ports.
The United States has stepped up diplomatic pressure to keep the weapons from getting to Harare. State Department Spokesman Tom Casey said Washington asked China not to ship further arms and "if possible, to bring this one back” to China.
Washington was expected to dispatch Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Fraser to encourage regional leaders not to let the ship dock and to urge the Southern African Development Community to increase pressure on Harare to release the results of the presidential election held more than three weeks ago on March 29.
US intelligence was reported to be tracking the ship amid conflicting reports as to its next destination. China has defended the shipment as “perfectly normal trade” but Beijing has hinted it may recall the ship as it was unable to offload its cargo.
Retired Zimbabwean Defense Forces Lt. Col. Martin Rupiya of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria told reporter Blessing Zulu that the SADC move to block unloading of the vessel shows growing regional impatience with Mr Mugabe.