Malawi to probe 'root cause' of albino killings

Mulanje (Malawi) (AFP) - Malawi has launched an investigation into the root cause of a recent spate of murders of albinos, a senior official said Saturday, as the country marked international albinism awareness day.

There was a need to educate citizens to "change their mindset (and understand) that albinos do not have any magical powers", Isaac Katopola, deputy secretary in the social welfare ministry, told AFP.

Albinos, who are very pale due to a hereditary genetic condition that causes an absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, are sometimes killed for their body parts for use in witchcraft.

Katopola said "officially six albinos have been killed" since a surge in attacks began in December, while UN agencies in Malawi put the figure at nine.

There was also "continued exhumation of albino remains for their bones", he said.

The two-month probe, which is being supported by the United Nations Children's Fund and UN Women, will also establish "where the market for body parts is among Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania".

"There is something going on and this will help us to undertake appropriate interventions," Katopola said on the sidelines of a colourful celebration of albinism.

Suspects arrested in killings, abductions and those in possession of albino bones have said they sell body parts of albinos in Mozambique and Tanzania.

The awareness day was attended by scores of young and adult albinos who braved a scorching sun -- which can damage their pale skin -- at a football ground located at the foot of Mulanje Mountain in the south of the country.

Boniface Massah, director of the rights group Association of People Living with Albinism in Malawi, told AFP that because of "deep cultural beliefs, Malawi had a long way to go to respond to the rights of albinos".

Primary school teacher Bertha Maleya, 28, an albino herself, urged the government "to take tough measures against albino killers and charge them with murder."

"We are living in fear since the attacks began," she said.

Julita Deleza, 30, with her albino daughter Jacquiline strapped to her back, said she travelled three hours to reach the venue to "hear it for myself about the safety of my daughter... I never leave her alone."

The official UN International Albinism Awareness Day was June 13, but was delayed in Malawi. Malawi President Peter Mutharika was due to address the celebration but did not turn up.

Gender Minster Patricia Kaliati said the president was tied up with other events in the capital, Lilongwe.

Kaliati said Malawi would "strengthen policing structures to provide maximum security to our brothers and sisters right in their homes and communities."