More than 200 people have been arrested in Tanzania as part of a nationwide crackdown on witchdoctors linked to a wave of deadly assaults on albinos, police said Thursday.
Police said they have arrested 225 unlicensed traditional healers and soothsayers during a special operation carried out in several parts of the east African country and due to be extended to all 30 regions.
"Some of those arrested were found in possession of items like lizard skin, warthog teeth, ostrich eggs, monkey tails, bird claws, mule tails and lion skin," police spokesperson Advera Bulimba said in a statement.
Bulimba said the police campaign would target a network of gangsters, traders and witchdoctors, adding that 97 of those detained have already appeared in court.
The statement also appealed to religious leaders, traditional elders, politicians and journalists "to continue the awareness campaign against superstitious beliefs that are holding back the development of our country."
The announcement comes a few days after Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said the ongoing attacks against people with albinism, whose body parts are used for witchcraft, were "disgusting and a big embarrassment for the nation."
At least 76 albinos have been murdered since 2000 with their dismembered body parts selling for around $600 and entire bodies fetching $75,000, according to United Nations experts.
A further 34 albinos have survived having parts of their bodies hacked off while still alive and grave robbers have dug up at least 15 more, seeking buried limbs and bodies.
Albinism is a hereditary genetic condition which causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. It affects one Tanzanian in 1,400, often as a result of inbreeding, experts say.