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Tanzania closes borders in massive crackdown on smuggling, corruption

Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, who quashed a coup plot in January, is making a serious attempt to crush the creeping corruption, black marketeering, and currency smuggling that are eating away at his impoverished country.

Top officials and policemen have been sacked. Raids on warehouses in Dar es Salaam have dredged up tens of thousands of dollars worth of smuggled goods. Spare parts, toys, imported liquors, cordless telephone headsets, gold watches, and enormous quantities of textiles were seized.

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One drastic move in the campaign last week was to close all Tanzania's borders to prevent smugglers and racketeers from fleeing. Those borders are with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. Its border with Kenya is already closed.

The police and Army are on alert. Police patrol boats have orders to sink vessels that carry fugitives leaving Tanzanian waters. Similar orders have been given to patrols on Lake Victoria, a potential escape route to Uganda and Kenya.

Some 380 persons have been arrested at road blocks, and others have been caught attempting water escapes. Since investigations of the black market started last month, $1.7 million in foreign currency and goods have been recovered.

The President has said he intends to use his powers of detention against corrupt officials and smugglers. He said black marketeers would not be tried because ''the courts often free the guilty.''

Last week four fairly senior government officials were dismissed for obstructing Nyerere's crackdown on corruption. They include regional police commanders for the northeast Arusha and Tanga areas, a government commissioner for northeast Tanga, and four leading businessmen.

Nyerere told a mass rally in Dar es Salaam that these measures would not solve Tanzania's economic problems, but that he hoped it would minimize hardships on Tanzanians. The country has acute shortages of soap, rice, cooking oil, and other commodities.

Tanzania, a socialist country and among the world's poorest nations, has foreign debts of about $1 billion and payment running $320 million in arrears. Its exports cover barely 40 percent of its import bill.

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The government is only now recovering from the shock of the coup plot to overthrow Nyerere in mid-January. The plotters, 29 of whom were arrested and now face trial on charges of treason, envisaged the assassination of Nyerere.

Among those reportedly involved are two lieutenant generals, an ambassador, and a top professor at Dar es Salaam University. Millions of dollars in foreign and Tanzanian currency were found in the homes of the alleged coup plotters. One question under discussion is whether the plot was formulated by some of the large Tanzanian refugee population living in London.

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