Concern over theft of assault weapons

2010-08-24 09:09

Pretoria – Dozens of automatic assault rifles, which are used increasingly often in farm attacks, have been stolen from the defence force’s arsenal over the past three years.

Besides the R1 and R5 assault rifles, five mortars and six missile launchers were also stolen.

This information came in answer to a written question in Parliament addressed to Lindiwe Sisulu, minister of defence, by Pieter Groenewald, FF+ spokesperson for defence.

It is unclear whether the missing mortars are the mortar tubes or the mortar bombs. The two can only be used together.

According to Groenewald, the loss of 183 firearms from the army’s storerooms since 2007points to poor management and control over the safekeeping of weapons.

Sisulu’s explanation that everything possible is being done to guard the weapons indicates, according to him, that future theft of weapons will simply have to be accepted.

Most of the weapons – 142 – were stolen in 2007, seven in 2008 and 36 in 2009. As of yet only one weapon has been stolen this year.

Cause for concern

According to Helmoed-Römer Heitman, a military expert, at least there are indications of a dramatic decline in the theft since 2007.

He agrees that it is especially the stolen R5 rifles which are a cause for concern.

Criminals can buy 5.56mm ammunition for these weapons at any hunting shop.

The R1 rifles were supposed to have been withdrawn from service already.

Sisulu’s answers do not stipulate where the weapons were stolen. Heitman suspects some of the weapons might have been stored precisely for the purpose of being destroyed later, and that they went missing at this stage.

According to Heitman, the 40mm missile launcher on Sisulu’s list is presumably a grenade and/or projectile launcher.

“It can’t really be used in a crime unless someone wants to open fire on a building. Also, the tube and bomb work together as a system, and you need the one to fire the other.”

Heitman is at a loss regarding the theft of a 70mm missile, since only the Rooivalk assault helicopter can use this weapon. He suspects it “went missing” in the logistics system.