Number of arrests over rhino horn theft rises to 11

The number of people arrested in connection with the theft of 12 rhinoceros horns has risen from seven to 11, according to the Maputo Provincial Attorney’s Office, cited by the independent television station STV.

The rhino horns were part of the largest ever seizure of illicit wildlife products in Mozambican history. On 12 May police swooped on a house in the southern city of Matola and seized 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns. Two Chinese citizens were detained in connection with the attempts to smuggle this material out of the country.

But less than a fortnight later, 12 of the horns had vanished from what was supposed to be a secure warehouse. Initially, the Maputo Provincial Police command said that six people had been arrested in connection with the theft, but declined to confirm whether any of them were police officers.

On 2 June, the spokesperson for the General Command of the police, Pedro Cossa, put the number of arrests at seven, and admitted that four of them were police officers – a chief inspector, an inspector, a sub-inspector and a sergeant. The others were an official in the Maputo Provincial Directorate of Land, Environment and Rural Development, and two people who made replicas out of cattle horn, to replace the rhino horns.

The Attorney’s Office did not say who the other four people arrested are. But its press release, signed by provincial chief attorney Olinda Cossa, said that the ivory and rhino horn were stored in the premises of the provincial directorate of the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC). This frontally contradicted a claim made by the spokesperson for the Provincial Police Command, Emidio Mabunda, who had told reporters that, at the time of the theft, the horns were no longer in police custody.

A further embarrassment for the police is the death of a young man from a stray police bullet in Boane district, 30 kilometres west of Maputo, on Sunday morning.

The chain of events leading up to this tragedy began on Saturday night, STV reported, when a policeman, in violation of police discipline, was drinking alcohol, while in uniform, in a bar in the Boane neighbourhood of Mahanjane. A youth in the bar took photos of the drinking policeman.

The policeman attacked the youth, and in the ensuing fight, the bar was partially destroyed. On Sunday morning an angry crowd of Mahanjane residents demonstrated outside the local police station, demanding an explanation for the police behavior at the bar.

The policeman who had been drinking the previous night fired into the air with his AK-47 assault rifle in order to disperse the crowd. According to one witness, Simeao Manjate, the policeman was still drunk.

One of the bullets hit 21 year old Fernando Tchaka, who was not even participating in the demonstration.

When the drunken policeman saw that he had killed somebody, he made a run for it, and tried to steal a motorbike.

Another witness, Rosalina Cossa, said “after the policeman had fired several shots, the owner of the bike abandoned it, but the policeman was so drunk that he couldn’t manage to drive the bike”.

Tchaka is a civil servant who works in the district of Manhica, and returns home to his family home in Boane at the weekends. He leaves a pregnant widow and a young son.

It is not yet clear what will happen to the drunken policeman. The district police command, in a clear admission of guilt, has offered to pay for Tchaka’s funeral.

Post published in: Africa News

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