AI fingers Madagascar cops

2012-11-20 22:23


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Antanarivo - Amnesty International on Tuesday called on Madagascar to rein in its "rampaging" security forces after a crackdown on cattle-rustling gangs killed dozens of people, including children, in the south of the country.

Amnesty cited witnesses that claimed children, elderly people and the physically disabled "were burned alive when security forces indiscriminately set fire to villages as part of the military operation".

"Madagascar's rampaging security forces must be brought under control," Amnesty said in a statement.

Police killed 40 cattle thieves, dubbed dahalos, during the two-month operation, which started in September.

The thieves had reportedly killed 14 security officers earlier in the year.

Witnesses claimed that in one of the "many raids on villages" security forces burned 95 homes in Elonty district and killed at least 11 people including a six-year-old girl, Amnesty said.

During the raids, security forces allegedly executed suspects on the spot, including one physically disabled person, as well as the parents and wife of a high-profile suspect.

"We are hearing of punishment and persecution of individuals and communities in the south which could amount to human rights abuses on an appalling scale," said Amnesty International researcher Christian Mukosa after a visit to Madagascar.

A school was also burned and crops destroyed, though officials claimed only marijuana farms were destroyed.

"The government has to rein in its security forces and launch an independent investigation into these allegations," Amnesty said.

More than 250 other people have also been killed this year around the southern town of Fort Dauphin, in communal clashes sparked by cattle thefts, according to Amnesty.

Police last week admitted to killing 27 thieves and two villagers during a 60-day operation. They alleged the Indian Ocean island's ousted president Marc Ravalomanana had contributed to the sharp escalation in violence when he set up a cattle export ranch in the region.

The London-based rights lobby group expressed concern that the spate of violence posed serious concerns for the security of civilians in the region ahead of presidential elections planned for May 2013.

The rampant theft of cattle evolved from a customary practice in which a youth must steal an animal to prove his manhood and win the favour of his in-laws.

But the rustling escalated this year, fuelled by a growing market.

The prized Zebu cattle, akin to the humped Brahman cattle considered sacred in India, have become the target of a booming criminal trade in the isolated southern parts of the world's fourth-largest island.

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