15 May 2002

ZIMBABWE: Israel to sell heavy riot control vehicles to Mugabe government

The Israeli government has endorsed the sale of heavy riot control vehicles to Zimbabwe, the state-run radio station, Kol Yisrael reported yesterday. The report, on the station’s respected international affairs programme, quoted foreign ministry sources as saying that Shimon Peres, the foreign minister, had authorised the transaction between the Beit Alfa Trailer company and the Mugabe regime, but had specified that it be delayed until after Zimbabwe’s March elections. Use of the equipment during the polling would have embarrassed Israel. The report quoted Mr Peres as saying the deal would boost the economy in the north of Israel, where Beit Alfa, a kibbutz turned weapons producer, is located. In Harare, opposition elements are worried that the new weaponry, which has reportedly already arrived, will be used to intensify the regime’s current crackdown. "The equipment is heavy and can crush any demonstration," a Zimbabwe police official was quoted on Sunday as telling the Zimbabwe Gazette. The paper said police were being trained by an Israeli in how to use the equipment.

The equipment has already arrived in Zimbabwe and includes customised anti-riot tankers, gas masks and microscopic 'laser guns', similar to those used by Israeli forces against the Palestinian protesters. The tankers, called Riot Control Vehicle model RCU 4500 I, were supplied by the Beit Alfa Trailer Company and have been undergoing tests at the Police Support Unit Headquarters in the capital. The anti-riot vehicles include the latest in water cannon technology based on an advanced computer controlled jet pulse system. Highly accurate pulse firing can be done in three different modes-short pulse, long pulse and continuous stream. The water is shot up to 500 metres. The command control panel allows the operator to mix additives like scorching tear gas, pepper spray or dye to the water "according to operational needs." They are also equipped with surveillance cameras.

After the deal was struck last year, Reuven Canfi, chief executive of Beit Alfa, declined to specify the number of vehicles or their price. The Gazette reported that the Israeli equipment included "customised anti-riot tankers, gas masks and microscopic laser guns". Beit Alpha’s web site, www.bat.co.il, shows the tanker as a vehicle that can have a machine gun mounted on top and features a ram. According to the website, Beit Alpha supplies chemical additives for the water cannons that can be used to restrain "dangerous inmate situations". These additives "demobilise" the inmate, it explains. Key details of the deliberations in Israel leading up to the sale remain unclear after a court ruled that it be kept classified. From documents that were released, it is clear that the defence ministry approved it. The deal proceeded after elections that were characterised by widespread abuse and prompted the Commonwealth to suspend Zimbabwe.

Days only after they had reported about the deal, three journalists from the country's only independent Sunday newspaper were arrested by the Zimbabwean government. Newly appointed Standard editor Bornwell Chakaodza who is the former editor of the government-controlled Herald and two senior reporters, Farai Mutsaka and Fungayi Kanyuchi, were detained yesterday afternoon in connection with two stories on Sunday, May 12. The first story said government had ordered military hardware and anti-riot equipment from Israel to combat civil protests, while the second claimed some police officers were involved in sex scandals with arrested prostitutes. (ZWNews / Standard; The Scotsman; Business Day)

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