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New wave of terror in town

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USED IN ATTACKS—Illegal firearms

There is a new gang of criminals that is terrorising the country’s cities. The gang, sometimes comprising over 15 members, has of late been targeting upmarket locations especially in Lilongwe and Blantyre. The manner in which it executes its attacks seems uniform—they drive behind your car and enter with you at your gate of residence. Once in the compound, the men—armed with pepper guns and all sorts of weapons—tie whoever they find in homes, steal and, worse still, rape. SERAH MAKONDETSA, in this Friday Shaker, highlights how this gang is instilling fear in residents of cities.

Cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre are under siege, especially in the evening in upmarket locations such as Area 49, Chapima Heights, Sunnyside, Nyambadwe, New Naperi and Kameza.

A few days ago, a gang of three criminals, armed with a pistol and panga knives, entered the house of a former diplomat and stole items such as television screens, mobile phones, laptops and K400,000.

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“We are very traumatised…I am just afraid that they might come back,” said a member of one family that experienced such attacks and abandoned their house the same night of the attack.

As if that was not enough, the gang raped two daughters in the house.

An eye-witness said the gang took advantage of the situation after occupants left the house’s doors open.

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“There is an incident involving thugs (15 people and above). They follow people when entering their gates,” one person posted on social media during the week.

“They are stealing as well as raping girls—regardless of age—at gun point. Please make sure you are home early and you lock the doors. In New Naperi, they have raped a maid and a 16-year-girl in two different houses.”

Another eye-witness said the wave of the attacks started last month in Lilongwe.

“The gang can even comprise 25. They can even attack six houses in one night,” he said.

Lilongwe Police spokesperson, Kingsley Dandaula, Thursday admitted they have been receiving reports of such attacks in areas such as 49 but “the situation has normalised as we have intensified patrols”.

Increasing cases of unemployment, drug abuse and proliferation of illegal firearms are among the factors experts have attributed to the increase in crime rate.

Proliferation of illegal firearms is evidenced by the fact that police have recovered a rifle and six suspects have been arrested, according to Malawi Police Service (MPS) spokesperson, James Kadadzera.

In a statement released Thursday Kadadzera admits that the gang is terrorising city residents but assured that police have stepped up security checks.

“We have intensified police patrols in the targeted areas and our investigators are on the ground to put [cases of] this gruesome crime to a complete stop,” Kadadzera says.

“We also appeal to patriotic Malawians with information regarding these robberies to inform the nearest police station. The police further appeals to Malawians to use social media platforms, particularly Facebook and WhatsApp, responsibly to avoid instilling fear in the citizenry.

“Malawians are reminded to avoid sharing sensitive videos, pictures or texts that have the ability to injure others in one way or the other including revealing names and particulars of victims of crime, for example rape and defilement. MPS reassures Malawians of total safety and security.”

The cases of attacks have increased just when Blantyre Police, for example, has released a report that the crime rate was down by 37 percent from last year.

Chapter XV of the Malawi Constitution states that it is the duty of police to protect “public safety and the rights of persons in Malawi according to the prescriptions of this Constitution and any other law”.

Statistics indicate that there are 10,000-plus civilians who are legal carriers of guns in Malawi.

In a Friday Shaker edition of January 18 2019, Kadadzera appealed to the public to tip the police on people who have such illegal weapons.

“The biggest challenge is that these weapons are small in nature and it is easy for people to hide them. So, we depend on the general public to tip us about people possessing them illegally,” he said.

Theodora Thindwa, Mzuzu University security studies lecturer, told the same Friday Shaker edition that such weapons are not supposed to be in the public domain.

“If you have come across shock sticks with police emblem, then there is need to find out how people are accessing them. But, if not, maybe they are being imported,” Thindwa said.

In some cases, armed robbers are caught with licenced arms belonging to security agents.

The Daily Times report of January 29 2016 cited the proliferation of such weapons to the recent conflict in Mozambique, porous, feebly patrolled borders and weak policing.

The particular newspaper article quoted the then senior assistant commissioner of Police, Noel Kayira, who was also National Focal Point on Small Arms chairperson, as painting a picture of the problem.

“Our statistics show that AK47 and pistols are popularly used in gun crime. Malawi does not license the possession and use of AK47 assault rifles both by government or its agencies and the private sector or individuals.

“There is a consistent pattern of confessions from suspects that most of these firearms were smuggled into Malawi through Mozambique,” Kayira is quoted as saying.

Statistics are chilling; pistols and AK47s were the weapons of choice in the 151 cases of gun crime recorded from 2009 to 2014.

In view of this, Kayira is quoted as saying Malawi’s Firearms Act of 1967 is outdated and not in line with regional and international obligations.

He called for a review of the Act to make it augur well with the Southern African Development Community Firearms Protocol.

He added that the 2012 Firearms Policy and the 2013 National Action Plan on control and management of firearms and ammunition needed serious implementation to curb gun trouble.

Such incidents, according to human rights activist Timothy Mtambo, reflect that the country’s borders are porous.

He urged people to be tipping the police. “We are ready to work with the police to raise awareness on the dangers of possessing such weapons. In countries such as the United States, where people kill each other using guns at one go, it is because of illegal possession of such weapons. This is a violation of human rights including the right to life,” Mtambo of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation told that Friday Shaker edition.

The Firearms Act is also clear on who is supposed to possess such weapons.

Some of the weapons such as pepper spray dispensers have health effects including blindness which lasts from 15 to 30 minutes, a burning sensation to the skin which can last for an hour and uncontrollable coughing.

All this suggests that something is wrong, gauging by the proliferation of these dangerous weapons. The sooner action is taken the better.

The trauma caused by such attacks can be severe.

The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi in Section 16, Section 19(3), states that: “No person shall be subject to torture of any kind or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.—Additional reporting by Peter Kanjere

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