South African press reports and official sources say deserters from Zimbabwe’s armed forces have carried out armed robberies and other crimes south of the Limpopo River.
The South African Migration Project of Queens University quoted an article by United Nations news service IRIN reporting that gangs of heavily armed men have carried out well-organized heists on casinos and cash-in-transit vehicles.
South African Ministry of Safety and Security spokesman Hangwani Mulaudz said that intelligence reports indicate former or deserted Zimbabwean soldiers have committed such major crimes in league with soldiers from other nations including Mozambique.
South African authorities have arrested a number of Zimbabwean ex-soldiers in connection with criminal raids, and are quoted as saying the men typically bear AK-47 assault rifles - a standard weapon for Zimbabwean forces. They said earlier incidents had featured minimal violence when the armed gangs were not challenged.
South African law enforcement officials have been focusing on the role of Zimbabwean deserters following the deaths last month of four policemen in a shootout in which 16 men were arrested, including five Zimbabweans. Eight suspected robbers were left dead at the scene, the Johannesburg Sunday Times reported.
Investigations of the June 25 crime continued, but the bloody incident has prompted public outrage directed against the many Zimbabweans in South Africa..
Reporter Patience Rusere of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked Security Ministry Spokesman Mulaudzi about crimes attributed to Zimbabwean soldiers.
Rusere interviewed military expert Giles Mutsekwa, intelligence and security secretary of the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mutsekwa said "it is a fact" that Zimbabwean military deserters are crossing into South Africa and committing armed robberies. He noted that soldiers, police and members of the Central Intelligence Organization are serving under harsh conditions, not only due to the economic collapse, but the tight surveillance maintained upon them.