Three soldiers of the Armed Forces for the Defence of Mozambique (FADM) attached to bases in Maputo province have been arrested and charged with stealing firearms from the national armoury and re-selling them to criminal gangs.
According to media reports from Maputo, the three were arrested following a police sting operation which also led to the arrest of one arms alleged arms dealer while another is on the run.
The four were not asked to plead when they appeared in court in Maputo last week and they are still being held in police custody pending the continuation of the trial.
Maputo City Police Command spokesperson Orlando Mudumane identified the three army personnel only as 28 year-old A. Francisco, 29 year-old I. Naveta and 42 year-old M. Kuamende, all from different bases in the greater Maputo province. An alleged illegal firearms dealer, identified only as F. Joao, who was arrested while buying an AK-47 rifle from the three, has also appeared in court charged with illegal possession and trafficking in firearms.
Mudumane said the soldiers were nabbed during a special police operation aimed at halting the proliferation of illegal firearms in Altoe-Mae, a crime-plagued suburb of the capital Maputo. “The police became aware of this (gun dealing) gang and carried out an operation in Alto-Mae to prevent more guns from falling into the hands of bandits. During this operation, the three soldiers and one civilian were arrested while they were making a transaction”.
He said the soldiers were arrested while selling an AK-47 rifle to Joao, whom the police believe is an arms dealer who buys high calibre firearms from the military for resale or hire to armed robbers and ivory poaching syndicates. “They are members of the armed forces with several years of experience, who used their positions to obtain guns and sell them to criminals”, Mudumane said.
At the time of their arrest, the soldiers were in the process of selling one AK-47 rifle to Joao for 23,000 New Meticals, which is equivalent to US$760. Another firearm stolen by the three from army stocks was recovered from its purchaser in the Bilene district of the southern Gaza Province which borders South Africa. The province also serves as a springboard for the cross-border operations of rhino poachers and armed robbery gangs operating in the Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou frontier park.
Heavily armed cross-border car-jacking and highway robbery syndicates also transit through the park, which straddles Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Although there is no further evidence of military involvement in the proliferation of firearms, Mozambique remains awash with small arms which include revolvers, self-loading pistols, carbines, sub-machine guns and assault rifles. Most of the firearms are surplus from the 1977-1992 civil war which pitted the Frelimo government against Renamo rebels led by Alfonso Dhlakama.
Former combatants from both sides of the conflict have been accused of selling or hiring out firearms sourced from arms caches which are still stashed out in the countryside. In January this year, police in the district of Guro in the central Manica province destroyed an arms cache which contained landmines, mortars, RPG-7 rocket launched grenades, AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and AK-47 ammunition.
Although no arrests were made, police said there were indications that the weapons belonged to former Renamo soldiers. Earlier on, a cache containing 25 RPG-7 rocket launchers and some 82 mm mortar shells was unearthed by a subsistence farmer in Tsalala, a corridor formerly used by Renamo soldiers when conducting raids into the southern city of Matola. Regional arms experts say most of the illegal high calibre assault weapons used to commit armed crime in South Africa are still being sourced from dealers in Mozambique.