Molewa welcomes poacher sentences

Johannesburg - The 25-year prison sentences handed to three rhino poachers by the Phalaborwa Regional Court were welcomed by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa on Wednesday.

"Minister Molewa believes the court sentence will send a strong message and hopefully act as a deterrent to poachers and would-be poachers," her spokesperson Albi Modise, said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Aselmo Baloyi, Jawaki Nkuna, and Ismael Baloyi - all Mozambicans - received the sentence after being found guilty of illegally hunting rhino in the Kruger National Park in July 2010.

The three were arrested, together with another man, in possession of two freshly chopped rhino horns, an assault rifle, a hunting rifle, and an axe.

The fourth accused tried to escape, but was re-arrested and died in custody last year.

Modise said the poachers' sentencing coincided with government increasing its anti-poaching activities to safeguard rhino.

These included SA National Defence Force patrols along the 350km national border in the Kruger National Park, and the deployment of conservation specialists at ports where rhino horns could be imported or exported.

"The department and SA National Parks (SANParks) are also in the process of beefing up patrols in the Kruger National Park by deploying an additional 150 rangers," Modise said.

The South African government was also engaging with Mozambican authorities to improve cross-border law enforcement.

On Tuesday, SANParks executive David Mabunda welcomed the combined sentence of 75 years.

"This is an indication that, as a country, we are taking more stringent measures in the fight against rhino poaching," he said.

Limpopo police commissioner Simon Mpembe warned that the fight against poaching would be intensified this year.

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