MAPUTO– Mozambican police in the northern province of Niassa have announced the arrest of five members of gangs who desecrated graves in order to steal human bones.

According to media reports here, the detainees, aged between 37 and 62, are accused of desecrating two graves in the villages of Jamissone and Njombo, in Mecanhelas and Mandimba districts respectively.

The robbers intended to sell the bones they had stolen in neighbouring Malawi. The spokesperson for the Niassa Provincial Police Command, Alves Mate, said three of the men were detained while they were travelling from Mecanhelas to Malawi.

They confessed that they were going to sell the bones to a Malawian who had ordered them, but whose name they claimed not to know.

The other two men, Mate said, are part of a group of four Mozambicans arrested inside Malawi, in a combined operation between the Mozambican and Malawian police forces. This time, the men were picked up as they tried to sell the bones. The other two men escaped.

Human bones and other body parts are used in superstitious rituals. The bones of albinos are particularly prized for their supposedly magical qualities. But since there is no way of telling bones of albinos apart from those of non-albinos, this superstition opens the path to desecrating any grave.