The Australian government denied a newspaper report yesterday that claimed Zimbabwe has used Australian air space for illegal trade with China.
The Age newspaper said the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has regularly commandeered Air Zimbabwe flights through Australian air space over the Indian Ocean to China in the past year.
The report said the flights are free junkets for Mugabe supporters who fly to Beijing and southern China to swap contraband such as ivory for weapons and luxury goods, the newspaper said, citing unnamed Zimbabwean aviation sources.
In a joint statement, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said yesterday that Air Zimbabwe flights from Harare to China do not enter Australian air space.
“Reports this morning that Air Zimbabwe flights travel through Australian air space are incorrect,” the ministers said.
“Australia has no general jurisdiction to prevent flights over international air space,” they said, adding that Australian air traffic controllers did manage flights through the international skies along the Air Zimbabwe route.
Australia is a vocal critic of Mugabe’s brutal suppression of political dissents in Zimbabwe and has enforced economic and travel sanctions against the Mugabe regime since 2002.
Australian opposition leader Brendan Nelson responded to the newspaper report by saying the government must ban Zimbabwe flights from Australian air space.
“We are all deeply concerned about the appalling treatment of Zimbabweans from torture through to murder; the complete corruption of the political system in Zimbabwe,” Nelson told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
“Every single thing that we can possibly do to bring good governance and order and political freedom to the people of Zimbabwe should be done,” he said.
A spokesman for the Zimbabwean embassy in Canberra, Felix Nyamupinga, said he knew of only one instance during his three years in Australia of a Zimbabwe-registered plane gaining clearance to enter Australian air space.
Nyamupinga said that flight occurred about a month ago, although he did not have details of the circumstances.
China and Russia this month vetoed US-proposed sanctions against Zimbabwe’s leaders at the UN.