Arms Ship Sent Back to China

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- A shipment of Chinese arms bound for Zimbabwe will be recalled after South African workers refused to unload the vessel and other neighboring countries barred it from their ports, China said on Thursday.

The recall of the An Yue Jiang, carrying 77 tons of assault rifle ammunition, mortars and rifle grenades, came after unprecedented regional opposition in addition to Western pressure over Zimbabwe's election crisis.

No results have been announced for the March 29 presidential vote, while the outcome of a parliamentary poll which the opposition won is also in doubt because of partial recounts.

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said he won the presidential election outright and has accused President Robert Mugabe of delaying results to rig victory and keep his 28-year hold on power.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference in Beijing that the ship will be recalled after it was unable to offload its cargo.

"To my knowledge, the Chinese company has decided to recall the ship and the relevant goods bound for Zimbabwe," Jiang said.

She defended the shipment in the face of criticism from New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said that any state that sent arms and ammunition to Zimbabwe could be complicit in the country's rights abuses. Neighboring Zambia had also said the weapons could worsen Zimbabwe's crisis.