Poachers face hot pursuit across borders

THE South African Police Service is conducting hot-pursuit operations into Mozambique to catch and bring to book suspected rhino poachers.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega told a press briefing on Tuesday that “these actions are happening every day”.

The police were pursuing suspects from the Kruger National Park across the border into Mozambique.

“Yes, we are doing that (sic) hot pursuits. We have put in place an agreement with Mozambique that we can do this.”

The generally accepted definition of a police hot-pursuit operation is when they immediately give chase to a suspect in a crim e without a warrant or official permission.

The issue of cross-border hot pursuits was a sore point during the apartheid era as special police units would often cross into a neighbouring country without permission to apprehend or even kill suspects.

Gen Phiyega’s admission is the first known during usage of this police tactic since 1991.

But she stressed that the hot pursuits were conducted with the knowledge of the Mozambique authorities.

“We also have a contact centre, or nodal point, to discuss (with Mozambique) these follow-ups (hot pursuits),” she said.

The eastern side of the Kruger National Park, close to Mozambique, is where poaching is most prevalent.

Gen Phiyega said proper legalities were followed to decide whether suspects should face charges in Mozambique or in South Africa.

“We (South Afican and Mozambican authorities) discuss if the arrested should be left in Mozambique or … brought to South Africa so we can avoid any issues of rendition,” she said. Rendition is the practice of sending a foreign criminal or terrorism suspect covertly for interrogation in a country with more rigorous regulations on prisoner treatment. Gen Phiyega said the police were deploying elements of their antiterrorist Special Task Force, a unit that includes trackers, and other units such as the dog and air wings to counter Kruger National Park poaching.

She said 171 arrests had been made this year in connection with the poaching of about 601 rhino in the park.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said hundreds of rhino would be relocated from high-risk areas in the Kruger National Park to lower-risk and population-density areas in and outside the country.

“South Africa considers a range of rhino strongholds inclusive of South African national parks, provincial reserves, communal areas and private reserves. South Africa also recognises international opportunities for establishing rhino strongholds in neighbouring countries,” Ms Molewa said.

The department was working with countries including Zambia and Botswana for the relocation.

South Africa has memorandums of understanding with China and Vietnam, and will soon be signing more with Thailand and Cambodia. Rhinos are poached to supply horn to people in these Asian countries, who believe that it cures cancer and improves virility.

A total of 631 rhino have been poached in the Kruger National Park so far this year compared to 1,004 last year, and 668 in 2012.

South Africa is home to 82% of the total rhino population in Africa and 93% of the global white rhino population.

There were about 21,000 rhino in the country in 2012, according to a SA National Parks (SANParks) survey.

The latest survey by SANParks shows that there were between 8,400 and 9,600 white rhino in the Kruger National Park last year and the black rhino population is more than 2,000. – Business Day Live

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