At least 38 suspects of human trafficking have been arrested in Ethiopia, 28 human trafficking victims rescued and 15 suspects arrested in Uganda in an Interpol- backed security operations in eastern and southern Africa.
A statement issued by the global police agency said the operation which targeted human, drugs and arms traffickers also resulted in the identification of hundreds of illegal immigrants.
“AK-47s were among the guns recovered in Tanzania and Uganda with weapons also seized in Burundi and Swaziland,” Francis Rwego, head of Interpol’s Regional Bureau in Nairobi, said. The operation codenamed Usalama (safety) was led by the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO) and the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (SARPCCO) with support from Interpol.
Rwego said thousands of checks against Interpol’s stolen vehicle database resulted in a series of matches for vehicles reported stolen from countries including Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and Britain.
The operation resulted in the recovery of 12 elephant tusks in Mozambique and Tanzania and the arrest of a woman in possession of six kg of heroin at Nairobi’s international airport.
According to the statement, the operation led to the destruction of some 100 acres of cannabis plantations in South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, and the identification of a suspected diamond smuggler in Botswana.
“My experience as a police chief is that ultimately every crime is transnational and cross-border in nature. This calls for the need to work together more than ever to solve national and transnational crimes,” said General Kale Kayihura, Inspector General of Police and Chairperson of EAPCCO.
“The success of operation Usalama shows that we can and must work together, not only at EAPCCO/SARPCCO regional level, but also at pan-African level if we are to succeed,” Kayihura added.
Refugee rights organizations and aid agencies have blamed poverty in Africa for the rising cases of human trafficking. They said that the huge supply of labor both skilled and unskilled makes them vulnerable to criminal syndicates.
According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), up to 20,000 Somali and Ethiopian immigrants are smuggled into Kenya annually with the South Africa as their final destination.
However, globally approximately 600,000 to 800,000 persons are trafficked annually with 80 percent of victims being female.
Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) Information Officer Andrew Maina said recently that studies indicate that at least 50 girls between the age of 10 and 15 every week are sold to serve as sex workers in the main towns of Kenya.
The crime is prevalent in all regions of the country but poor parents are known to coerce their children into prostitution. The situation is further exacerbated in northern Kenya by the frequent drought that increases the presence of cheap labor.
The victims normally have no access freedom of movement as well as any other fundamental rights.
Supported by Interpol’s Regional Bureaus in Nairobi and Harare, a series of pre-operational briefings were held to share intelligence on national and regional crime issues, identify trends and provide training on Interpol’s global tools and services used during the three-day (July16-18) operation.
Rwego said the operation Usalama was a strong, coordinated response from law enforcement to tackle the serious challenges posed by transnational crimes in Eastern and Southern Africa.
“Hundreds of human trafficking victims have been saved, drugs and guns taken off the streets and serious criminals arrested through this operation, made possible through the leadership of EAPCCO and SARPCCO,” Rwego said.
Inspector General of Tanzania Police and SARPCCO Chairperson Saidi Ally Mwema said the unique joint Operation Usalama was a clear success with its impact shown by the results.
Mwema said the operation brought together law enforcement officials from customs, immigration and the Tanzania Intelligence Security Service with the police as the lead agency.
“We can look forward to repeating operations of this nature in the future which show that together as regions we can combat crime even more effectively,” he added.
Investigations are continuing with updated results to be reported during the forthcoming EAPCCO and SARPCCO meetings.
Among the participating EAPCCO member countries are Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Participating SARPCCO member countries include Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.
Chilika Simfukwe, head of Interpol’s Regional Bureau in Harare, said the dedication of all the law enforcement officers who took part in Operation Usalama led to its success and demonstrates the effectiveness of national and regional cooperation.
“Interpol stands ready to provide its continued assistance and support to law enforcement across the region and beyond,” Simfukwe said.