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16 Mar 2004 09:39
A Danish woman and her Zimbabwean husband accused of trafficking human organs in Mozambique say they have been persecuted for eight months most probably in a bid to grab land.
Tania Skytte (34) said that the charges—brought on by two nuns who live in the northern town of Nampula—were baseless.
“Some people played on the ignorance of locals and this unbelievable story was created out of nothing,” she said.
Skytte and her husband 36-year-old Gary O’Connor have been living in Nampula for three years raising chickens at a farm near the airport, aided by Mozambican authorities who assured them that they would have no problems with the locals.
There was a pre-existing agreement chalked out by community leaders that some locals could lease parts of the land. But the governor of the province Abdul Razak ruled that such arrangements were illegal and despite several meetings between local authorities and the population, the problem still persisted.
The cause of the locals’ rights to lease parts of the farm was quickly taken up by nuns belonging to the order of the Servants of Mary congregation, who had set up a convent nearby.
The couple says the origin of the charges could be land-related, fuelled by local or church politics.
The first accusations surfaced in July last year, shortly after the arrival of Maria Elilda dos Santos, a 45-year-old Brazilian nun.
Sister Juliana, who is in charge of the convent, has said that she and Sister Maria Elilda led the police “to a young man who came from the property (of the O’Connors who were then away) to sell a child.
The nuns then quickly made allegations of child trafficking and alleged that several children had disappeared.
They then contacted the Attorney-General in Maputo and also obtained the backing of the archbishop of Nampula.
This sparked a campaign of accusations which sparked nationwide frenzy and also made international headlines.
Meanwhile, the allegations took a more sinister turn with the Brazilian nun now speaking to the international press about the horrible situation and “mutilated bodies found on public roads”.
In six months, meantime, there were three probes which failed to come up with any evidence regarding the allegations.
The last enquiry conducted by the deputy Attorney General and a forensic expert examined the cases of 14 children who had disappeared and conducted tests on three exhumed corpses but failed to come up with anything.
“We studied the case of little Sarima, who was found dead in September 2002.
“I have confidence in the Attorney-General but he is only a part of the system. He is also a victim of this network. Everybody is scared,” Sister Juliana was reported as saying.
The local governor who was also fingered by the nuns but the defended himself saying he hade “never interfered” in the probe.
Referring to Sister Juliana, he said: “I am intrigued that it only took one person to be the origin of such a rumour,” adding that he was also “surprised by the capacity of the Brazilian nun Maria Elilda dos Santos in putting the local and international media on this case.”
The nuns drew up a list of some 50 children who had disappeared between September and November last year.
Police official Manuens was dismissive, saying: “More than 50 children disappeared and nobody came to us?”
A foreigner who lives in Nampula said: “I regularly give food to street urchins in my locality and not one of them has disappeared.”
The couple at the heart of the scandal meanwhile say they have had enough.
“We do not understand the motives which spurred the nuns to do all this,” Tanya Skytte said, adding that they now intended to leave Mozambique.
“What is certain is that we intend to start a libel suit against the nuns.” - Sapa-AFP
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