JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
A GANG of about 50 copper thieves, notoriously known as Jerabos, on Friday night invaded Nchanga Open-Pit Mine in Chingola on theÂ Copperbelt.
The daring thieves were, however, over-powered by police, who arrested five of them.
According to Copperbelt police commissioner Charity Katanga, police pounced on the thieves around 01:00 hours, acting on a tip-off.
Mrs Katanga said the copper thieves were transported to the mine in a truck.
She named those arrested as James Chibwe, 27, Leonard Kabalika, 28, and Percy Luwi, aged 31.
Also arrested are two minors, both aged 16.
The five have been charged with criminal trespass and theft.
Police recovered much of the stolen items.
Mrs Katanga said among the items stolen from the mine, which is run by Konkola Copper Mine, were bags of copper concentrate and scrap metal, which were hidden under tree branches.
The value of the stolen items is yet to be determined, but a source at the mine said it could probably run into millions of dollars.
And Mrs Katanga said the invasion by the copper thieves is â€œmore than meets the eyeâ€.
She said the crime bears the hallmark of organisation crime.
â€œIâ€™m gravely concerned because this seems to be very organised,â€ she said.
Mrs Katanga also suspects a syndicate is at the centre of the criminal activities.
Following yesterdayâ€™s incident, police have deployed over 20 personnel to beef up the security provided by the mining company.
The mine police was reportedly out-numbered by the thieves.
And a source at the mine said yesterdayâ€™s invasion by the jerabos was the second one, following another invasion which happened last Wednesday.
The source also revealed that the thieves chased away night-shift workers before breaking into a store room, where they stole motors.
The source said the thieves have taken advantage of the vastness of the mine, which makes policing difficult.
Nchanga Mine, which covers about 30 square kilometres, is the second largest open-cast mine in the world.