Vietnam bars Mugabe plane

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An Air Zimbabwe plane which was scheduled to pick up President Robert Mugabe from holiday in Far East Asia was reportedly barred from Vietnam’s airspace last week.

According to media reports, Air Zimbabwe was denied flying rights over Vietnam from China and had to use a longer route which passes through the South China Sea and in the process delayed President Mugabe’s return from holiday by several hours.

The reports showed the flight hurdles could have been caused by the long suspension of Air Zimbabwe’s flights to China and the Far East hence it didn’t have clearance codes to navigate through Vietnamese airspace.

The airline had suspended flights to China and Malaysia because of fuel shortages.

However, Air Zimbabwe acting chief executive officer Innocent Mavhunga yesterday sought to play down the development.

“It is not very true that we were denied access. We use what is called an electronic flight plan where we get hold of authorities from countries to fly over their countries, so we failed to get through to the Vietnam authorities and could not fly over their airspace, so we had to use another route, but that doesn’t mean we were denied access,” Mavhunga said in an interview.

Transport minister Nicholas Goche said: “I have no comment on that issue. What does it have to do with the public that an Air Zimbabwe plane was delayed?

“Other airlines delay and does that become a story? Why do you have to ask me? What did the chief executive officer say? Ask management and not me.”

Repeated efforts to contact President Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba were fruitless. The Boeing 767-200er is the same plane which failed to take President Mugabe for his holiday after it was impounded in London over a $1,5 million debt and later developed a technical fault which further delayed the release of the aircraft.

Air Zimbabwe is teetering on the brink of collapse resulting in the national carrier failing to pay $5,6 million it owes workers in salaries for nearly seven months and cancellations of local, regional and international flights.

The airline has since suspended flights to London and South Africa, over fears the planes could be impounded by creditors. Last week, workers staged a demonstration over unpaid salaries.

The Boeing 767-200er is the same plane which failed to take President Mugabe for his holiday after it was impounded in London over a $1,5 million debt and later developed a technical fault which further delayed the release of the aircraft.