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Armed Robberies Surge in Zimbabwe; Hard Currencies Seen as a Factor

A gang of six armed robbers hit a Stanbic Bank branch in Chegutu, outside Harare, on Tuesday, making offf with $US,266000, 150,000 South Africa rand and 34,000 Botswana pula in cash

Zimbabwe police say the festive season has been marred by armed robberies across the country, the latest being a heist at a Stanbic Bank branch Tuesday in Chegutu, a satellite town outside Harare, the capital, where gunmen made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hard currency.

Officials said the six robbers took $US266, 000, 150,000 South Africa rand and some 34,000 Botswana pula for an equivalent total of about $US285,000. They said on Wednesday that the perpetrators remained at large.

Co-Minister of Home Affairs Giles Mutsekwa of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told VOA that armed robberies have surged since the holiday season began.

He said police have mobilized in search of the gang of six men which looted the Chegutu bank, whose manager sustained a gunshot wound. Mutsekwa said the mixed hard currency monetary regimen adopted by the government early this year has helped to encourage such stepped-up criminal activity.

The Matebeleland region in the west of the country has been one of the hardest hit. Police sources said gunmen hit a supermarket and a nightclub in Gwanda last week, making off with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

Mutsekwa told VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that the police will crack down hard on crime, but the Home Affairs minister warned banks and businesses to take steps themselves to bolster their internal security.

"There has been a surge recently in robberies, where banks and individual businesses have been targetted," he said. "Police are out in full force ... but businesses should also be careful in handling their own cash."

Though bank robberies are not as common in Zimbabwe as in neighboring South Africa, their frequency has increased in recent years. A Kingdom Bank branch in Harare lost US$200,000 to gunmen in February, though the bank robbers were later apprehended by the authorities.

Another armed gang stormed a Barclays Bank branch in Bulawayo in July and seized more than US$100,000.