Zimbabwe: UK blocked suspected Mugabe arms bid

by Own Correspondent

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe may have attempted to use Swaziland to bust an international arms embargo by asking the small kingdom nation to clandestinely buy weapons from a British firm in 2008, it has emerged.

The bid to evade an European Union arms embargo on Harare was thwarted by British authorities who blocked the purchase of US$60 million worth of military equipment by Swaziland because of strong suspicions that the small kingdom was acting as an intermediary for Harare, according to a diplomatic cable released last week by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

The cable, written by former British ambassador to Swaziland Maurice Parker, said that in December 2008 the government of the Kingdom of Swaziland (GKOS) sought to purchase approximately US$60 million worth of military equipment, including helicopters, vehicles, weapons and ammunition from a British arms manufacturer.

"The British government denied the request over end-use concerns," Parker allegedly wrote.

In documents requesting permission to purchase the equipment, Swaziland's Ministry of Defence stated that the equipment was for use by the country's defence forces on United Nations peacekeeping deployment in Africa.

Parker said permission was denied because it was unclear whether the weapons were intended for UN peacekeeping purposes or whether Swaziland was "possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party".

"The GKOS may have been attempting to build up domestic capability to deal with unrest, or was possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party such as Zimbabwe or a Middle Eastern country that had cash, diamonds or goods to trade," the cable said.

The alleged purchase request came just months after southern African human rights groups stopped a Chinese ship laden with arms destined for the Zimbabwean army from docking at ports in the region.

Swaziland's King Mswati III is one of Mugabe's closest regional allies and was chairman of the security troika of the Southern African Development Community.

Zimbabwe is subject to a Western arms embargo which is part of a raft of punitive measures imposed on Mugabe and senior members of his ruling elite by the European Union, United States, New Zealand and Australia for their alleged role in human rights abuses.

The cable said the Swazi arms purchases were blocked after suspicions that the array of weapons requested would not be needed for the first phases of peacekeeping.

The purchase application included requests for three Bell Model UH-1H helicopters, FN Herstal light machine guns, armoured personnel carriers, command and control vehicles including one fitted with heavy machine gun, military ambulances, armoured repair and recovery vehicles, military image intensifier equipment and optical target surveillance equipment.