Soldiers shot and wounded three poachers in the Houtbosrand area north of the Olifants River in the Kruger National Park at 8pm on Wednesday, the Joint Oprations Division says in a statement. All three men later died.
“The poachers fired on the SANDF soldiers who returned fire,” says spokeswoman Lieutnant Colonel Marinda Meyer. “An AK47 rifle, one Bruno .458 hunting rifle, two axes and two cell phones were found in their possession.”
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is responsible for safeguarding the borders of the Republic of South Africa as envisaged by the Constitution which stipulates that the SANDF shall protect the territorial integrity and safeguarding the sovereignty of the republic. In this regard, the SANDF is in the Kruger National Park to ensure that the mandate is carried out, the SANDF said.
“In the case where rhino-poaching manifests as a cross-border crime activity, the SANDF will act within the framework of its present mandate as per the Defence Act of 2002 Section 18(1)(d).
The SANDF contributes and plays a very critical role in the curbing of rhino-poaching as part of their support to SAN Parks along the Kruger National Park which borders the neighbouring countries.”
In April SA Army soldiers deployed in the KNP arrested four Mozambican nationals, also for suspected poaching. They were in possession of a hunting rifle, cell phones, binoculars and axe, the Department of Defence said in a statement at the time.
The state BuaNews agency reported in late March that some 165 troops had been deployed to patrol the international border between the park and Mozambique to re-establish state authority and combat poaching. “For the safety of our borderlines and the escalating rhino poaching incidents we have decided to add our troops and divide them so that others will help in the Kruger to [combat] rhino poaching and other cross-border related crimes,” said provincial SANDF commander Colonel Nceba Bobelo.
The troops are patrolling the border in the park, as well as in the Mbuzini and Komatipoort areas. The troops are working with the police, South African Revenue Service and other government departments involved in crime-combating operations, the military said.
South African National Parks (SANParks) chief executive David Mabunda last month said that 71 rhinos have been killed at SANParks reserves since the beginning of this year, while 333 rhino deaths were recorded last year. Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu separately said the military had “declared war” on poachers.
The SANDF is currently deployed along stretches of the Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho borders At the end of the financial year 2012/13 the SANDF hopes to patrol the entire 4471 kilometres frontier between South Africa and Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Lesotho.
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu overnight warned poachers that the military will return fire with fire in the KNP and other areas along the border. “The SANDF will do anything to protect our national asserts, we will not allow criminals to do as they wish in our parks, we also want to send a very strong message that poachers who shoot at soldiers must know that we will return fire with fire”, the minister said.
The minister added that the SANDF and the South African National Parks will cooperate in protecting all national parks. The cooperation will include joint operations, sharing of information and training.