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Operation To Rout Out Human Skin Business Successful

Panafrican News Agency, 12 July 2000

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (PANA) - Authorities in Tanzania say they have made a tremendous success in thwarting an illegal business in human skin, which had crept into the nation fomented by a resurgence in superstition and the use of witchcraft.

The epicentre of the illegal business was Mbeya region in south Tanzania, a town whose fame took centre stage in 1999 when full colour pictures of victims were laid bare on television screens and on front pages of newspapers.

The trade was said to have begun in the western region of Kigoma, bordering Lake Tanganyika before spreading outwards to Rukwa across the Democratic republic of Congo and to Mbozi near the Zambian border.

Mbeya regional police cheif Laurian Sanya declined to give details of the intelligence used to rout out the practice. Because the issue touched on internal security, he told PANA.

But when briefing the parliamentary committee on defence and security in June, Sanya attributed the success of the operation to concerted efforts of the police and the public.

The collaboration had led to the arrest of at least 15 people, three of whom had died in remand from what Sanya related to the AIDS epidemic.

A 70-year-old man, Milongoti Milusukwa, who was claimed to have been the ringleader of the skin trade, was among those arrested.

A legislator from the region, Edson Halinga, however, believes that the suspects have been dying in remand from heavenly retribution as authorities were taking far too long to punish them.

God has finally heard the cries of His people, he told parliament recently.

Taking issue with prosecuting authorities on the delay, Halinga said justice was being denied those who had suffered at the hands of the suspects.

But though the government was dragging its feet, God has answered the prayers of His people, and their assailants are dying one after the other, he added.

Halinga warned parliament in 1999 that unless the government clamped down on the macabre killings in the region, citizens would have no alternative but to skin the suspects.

The government replied by expelling witchdoctors and sorcerers from neighbouring countries who practised their craft in Tanzania, following a nation-wide clamour over the butchering and skinning of a 14-year-old boy.

From Tanzania, the priced commodity would find its way to markets as far as Cameroon, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they were used in witchcraft.

An un-bruised skin would fetch between 2,500 and 10,000 US dollars depending on the skill the skinner used in dislodging it from a victim, Sanya added.

The gory killings raised tension in the affected region, prompting parents to withdraw their children from schools far from their homes out of fear that they would be lynched and skinned.

Superstition is, however, behind many macabre killings in Tanzania where many dismembered bodies are retrieved without vital organs such as penises and vaginas.

Those in the know say witchdoctors use such human limbs to make powerful concoctions that are potent enough to make their clients richer and the poor rich.

The human uterus, for example, is said be a good charm in defeating prosecution. Mixed with oil to be applied on the face before attending court, witchdoctors prescribe this concoction to criminals.