BEIJING - China on Wednesday denied that a Chinese ship carrying arms to Zimbabwe had managed to get its cargo to the landlocked African nation, saying the ship and the weapons were on their way back to China.

Zimbabwe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga would not comment at the weekend on reports that his government had finally taken delivery of a consignment of arms at the centre of controversy since April.

South African port workers refused to offload the Chinese-owned ship carrying them, the An Yue Jiang, saying the weapons could deepen Zimbabwe's political crisis.

"It's a defence issue that I would not want to comment on, except to say that as we are not under any arms embargo. We will continue to source our arms requirements in a regular and official manner," Matonga said.

But China's Foreign Ministry said the An Yue Jiang was on its way back to China, and denied reports the weapons had arrived in Zimbabwe.

"These reports are baseless and purely fictitious," spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement on the ministry's website (

"The Chinese side has already said many times that the weapons sold to Zimbabwe will return on the An Yue Jiang. The ship is currently on its way back to China," Qin said.

Zimbabwe has been locked in a political crisis after the government initially refused to release results of presidential elections on March 29.

A run-off between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change's Morgan Tsvangirai is scheduled for June 27.