MAPUTO� The General Commander of the Mozambican police, Bernadino Rafael, has disclosed that the police have detained inside South Africa some members of criminal gangs who have been attacking buses and other vehicles using the road from Maputo to Johannesburg in neighbouring South Africa.

Speaking at a meeting with members of the Mozambican Federation of Road Transporters (FEMATRO) here last Friday to discuss means of strengthening security for travellers, Rafael said the arrests occurred as part of a joint operation between the Mozambican and South African police forces. Those arrested had taken part in at least two recent attacks on buses travelling from Maputo to Johannesburg.

The criminals were arrested with some of the documents and cell phones they had stolen from the passengers,” media reports here quoted him as saying. Based on these clues, our colleagues in the South African police are expanding their lines of investigation in order to neutralise other members of the crime syndicate which has recently caused problems for travellers. Investigative work is continuing to clear up all the events registered to date.”

Rafael said the police had established that some of the gangs attacking vehicles contain both South African and Mozambican criminals, while others consist exclusively of South Africans.

Some of the criminals pretend to be passengers, and board the buses in Maputo. Once the bus has crossed the border and is in South African territory, they pull put weapons and start to rob the other passengers.

So one of the measures we have taken to tighten security for people travelling on the buses, is that passengers must be registered, with a photocopy of their ticket and their passport,” Rafael said. This measure is to identify all those passengers who, in the middle of the journey, commit crimes.”

FEMATRO chairperson Castigo Nhamane said he was pleased with the Federation’s interaction with the Mozambican police. He called for greater co-ordination with the South African police to ensure an effective fight against the highwaymen.

The most recent assaults have been against buses of the Mozambican company Majugar and the South African company Intercape, both operating the Maputo-Johannesburg route. The travellers, mostly Mozambican, were stripped of their valuables, and of the money they were carrying for purchases in South Africa or for medical expenses.

Several bus companies ply the Maputo-Johannesburg route, some offering two trips a day. Although the journey takes about ten and a half hours, it is much cheaper than flying.