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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Ugandan police battle smugglers
Policemen guard smugglers and cigarettes
'Border babies' play cat and mouse with police
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By the BBC's Abraham Odeke
Busia, eastern Uganda
As Ugandan police intensify their operations against smugglers on the Uganda-Kenya border, the hardcore operators have invented new tactics.

They have recruited hundreds of women who now carry the contraband, especially money-spinning Kenyan-made cigarettes.

The women conceal the cigarettes under their purposely designed thick clothing and underpants

Smuggling rocketed when Uganda introduced a tax on cigarettes last year.

The Special Revenue Protection Services, SRPS, recruited by President Yoweri Museveni's Office to battle smugglers, has scored some big successes in their war against contraband but the flow of goods across the border shows no sign of abating.

'Border babies'

Last month, the SRPS impounded several trucks and big boats loaded with large quantities of contraband, including petroleum products and textiles ferried from across the border in Kenya.

During one incident, the SRPS engaged in a fierce gun battle with smugglers, commanded by self-styled "Captain" Shaolin.

When the dust settled, Shaolin's body was found lying beside his bullet-riddled luxury car and a few of his bodyguards popularly referred to as "Border Babies" were arrested.

Traders with bails of goods on their heads
Smuggling has become a lucrative trade

The SRPS attributed their glaring success to the attractive cash rewards they now offer to anybody giving information about the smugglers and their movements along the Uganda-Kenya border and on Lake Victoria.

The SRPS has equipped their informers with mobile phones to enhance the speedy delivery of information.

With the killing of Shaolin, everybody in the border area thought that the remaining "Border Babies" would not have the courage to smuggle again.

Hot tip

But only a few days ago, the SRPS got information that shops in the interior of Uganda were fully stocked with the hot-selling Supermatch cigarettes.

Samuel Kigula, the SRPS commander in the Malaba-Busia borderline, says the smugglers are a very cunning lot.

"One day I got information that all the women passengers inside the buses and on the lorries leaving the border towns were an organised group of smugglers recruited by the 'Border Babies'. I first doubted the reports," he said.

We shall soon invent another tactic

Cigarette smuggler

The SRPS commander called me to one of the snap roadblocks his officers staged on the Busia-Tororo Road.

What I witnessed was enough evidence that the smugglers in Uganda are not ready to give up the practice just yet.

Out of 50 passengers on the bus that was stopped by the SRPS, only four of the passengers were men.

Job fears

The rest were women wearing thick clothing and heavy perfume.

When they were searched by the female SRPS officers, two truck-loads of Supermatch cigarettes were retrieved.

The cigarettes had been strapped on the women's backs, legs, chests and some packets were found in their underpants.

"Somebody has spoiled our game by alerting the SRPS about our new tactics. We shall soon invent another tactic," one of the women told me.

The cigarettes worth 5m shillings ($2,855) were later burnt by the SRPS.

Since the introduction of the tax last year, sales of locally produced cigarettes have fallen in the capital, Kampala, prompting fears of job losses in the tobacco industry.

See also:

06 Jul 01 | Africa
Cigarette sales fall in Uganda
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Uganda
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