What Are Chinese Troops Doing On Zimbabwe's Streets?
Armed and uniformed Chinese force reported to be on patrol

Mystery surrounds alleged sightings of a troop of 20 armed Chinese soldiers, said to be patrolling the streets of Mutare, the eastern border town, shoulder-to-shoulder with Zimbabwean security forces this week.

The Chinese, witnesses say, patrol in full uniform, and carry pistols, and their sudden appearance has terrified some local residents. The unit formed part of a heavy security deployment in the city centre, used to crush the MDC's nationwide strike designed to force the release of the election results.

The Chinese Embassy in Harare has denied any knowledge of Chinese troops in the area, and has suggested that they might be a privately-hired force, there to protect the interests of local Chinese-owned companies.

The Chinese unit is believed to be accommodated in the Holiday Inn in the centre of Mutare. Their behaviour in the hotel has caused comment amongst the hotel employees.

One told me: "It was a great shock when they checked in, wearing full military regalia and carrying pistols openly. They don't allow us access to their rooms for cleaning purposes, and they do not eat here, although they have paid for full accommodation including meals."

The unit is said to move out on patrol, then return to the hotel every two hours. They are booked in at the hotel for one week, ending this weekend.

Further evidence of Chinese involvement in Zimbabwe came with the confirmation that a Chinese freighter loaded with arms destined for Harare has been cleared to dock in Durban, South Africa.

The ship is the An Yue Jiang, and South African police are said to have confirmed that the cargo is armaments and weapons. It is thought that the Zimbabwe government ordered the consignment to bolster its depleted arsenal, amid fears of anti-government riots in the aftermath of the elections.

Meanwhile the leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is said to have survived two recent attempts on his life, has taken steps to secure the safety of his family, his staff and himself by moving to a new base in neighbouring Botswana. He met the new president of Botswana, Ian Khama, last week.

Today he was expected to fly in to Harare, by private jet, for a press conference. He has been meeting with other heads of state this week, and also with the leader of the minority MDC faction, Arthur Mutambara. The two met in Johannesburg to discuss ways of working together in a new parliament.