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article imageSouth Africa takes tougher stance on rhino poachers Special

By Christopher Szabo     Apr 26, 2011 in World
Pretoria - The acting commander of South Africa’s armed forces, Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima, has warned rhino poachers and other transgressors: “We don’t want any casualties and pulling a gun against a soldier is the last thing they should attempt."
The Acting Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said soldiers were trained to use their weapons and would do so if threatened. He was speaking at a briefing at the Joint Operations Division attended by Digital Journal, which also houses the Special Forces, in Pretoria. The briefing reflected a tough new attitude of the SA military towards border control – including the fight against cross-border crime and poaching.
Brigadier General Koos Liebenberg gave a presentation showing the planned deployment of 22 companies, or more than 2,500 soldiers, closely supported by the South African Air Force (SAAF) and equipped with vehicles giving them great mobility, by 2014.
Brigadier General Koos Liebenberg at the briefing.
Brigadier General Koos Liebenberg at the briefing.
The increased numbers would operate in conjunction with the present electric fence system, currently “unserviceable”, which would be made operational. High-tech observation and listening posts would be linked to fixed positions which would give the army, operating with local officials and the public, new capabilities to plug the “porous border” through which much crime and illegal activity takes place.
This includes the “exportation” of stolen vehicles, illegal border-crossers who end up unemployed and often as perpetrators or victims of crime in South Africa, as well as human trafficking through ports and helicopter and other aerial incursions.
South Africa’s has a land border of 4,471 kilometres (2,778 miles), a maritime coastal border of 2,798 kilometres (1,738 miles) and a straight-line aerial border of 7,660 kilometres (4,759 miles).
This does not include the square mileage which needs to be covered nor the maritime 20 nautical mile limit or the 200 kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Liebenberg gave two examples of the success of the new military deployments:
On April 11, 2011, an army patrol operating with three game rangers observed three poachers chasing rhinos towards Mozambique in the Kruger National Park, in the north east of the country. A poacher did not comply with orders to drop his weapon and was shot. His two accomplices fled but were later arrested. The suspected poacher’s present condition was not clear but he was in ICU earlier.
In another incident on the same day Army vehicle patrols captured four suspected poachers from Mozambique. They are currently in police custody.
In both cases, a very large calibre rifle (.458) was confiscated, often referred to as an “elephant gun”. This size of heavy rifle is used to hunt the “Big Five”, the lion, the leopard, the elephant, the buffalo and the rhino.
Other items taken were axes, binoculars and food. The axe was presumably to hack off the rhino’s horns once shot.
General Matanzima stressed that the military was not only trying to stop a particular crime, such as rhino poaching, which was so much in the news at present, but to “project the power of the state. To make them ‘think twice.’”
Acting Chief the the South African Defence Force  Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima.
Acting Chief the the South African Defence Force, Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima.
The deployment, named Operation Corona, is planned in five phases, two of which are complete and will eventually cover all border areas currently used for crime, which are mainly the South Africa-Zimbabwe border, the border with Mozambique and the border with the landlocked kingdom of Lesotho, which accounts for a lot of stock theft.
The new approach includes, in the case of the Kruger Park, the co-operation of rangers, the South African Police Services, intelligence services and the use of local tip-offs.
General Liebenberg responding to a question said key points in the tactics included observation posts, listening posts, non-lethal ambushes and night observation.
In response to a question I put, he stressed the military were not using “tactics of the A-Team”, but rather relied on standard infantry training.
He said both successes had resulted from non-lethal ambushes, which were set up the same way an ambush would be in wartime. He also stressed repeatedly that night operations were vital.
Liebenberg shared an anecdote in which an Army patrol got a flat tire in the Kruger Park, whereupon they were approached by two lions. He said the soldiers, on the advice of the rangers, fired four rounds from an R-4 rifle into the air and the lions left.
It is hoped the SANDF’s new approach will net not only rhino poachers, but also other criminals who have contributed to South Africa’s exceptionally high crime rate.
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