KATIMA MULILO – The residents of Zambezi Region have implored government to help stop the abduction of Namibian fishermen by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), which are said to be rife in the region.
The call follows recent reports that 70 Namibian fishermen and fish vendors were allegedly abducted by Botswana soldiers.
The alleged abductions and torture last month of Namibians took place at Situngu Island in the Kapani area of the Zambezi Region.
The incident happened at the beginning of July when armed BDF soldiers raided Situngu Island where Namibian fishermen were camped. During the raid a detachment of BDF troops reportedly ransacked the makeshift fishing camp and detained up to 70 people whom they accused of having entered Botswana “illegally”.
Nineteen of those detained were women with babies who had to endure up to four days in detention with some of them subjected to corporal punishment.
Chairperson of the Zambezi Youth Forum, John Ntemwa, called on Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba to help resolve the issue maintaining that the matter will not be put to rest until an amicable solution is found.
“We call upon His Excellency, President Hifikepunye Pohamba to help Namibian citizens in the Zambezi Region and solve this issue once and for all. These soldiers (BDF) have brought tension between the two countries. They cannot be mistreating people like this and this is inhumane. We are not going to leave this issue unresolved, this time around we will make sure it is resolved,” insisted Ntemwa.
Ntemwa did not take kindly to a statement of the Botswana High Commission which denied claims that a consignment of fish, canoes and makeshift tents were burned by BDF soldiers during the raid. “The Botswana High Commission must not give us misleading comments in their air-conditioned offices in Windhoek. They must come to the island and see the ashes for themselves. They should compensate those fishermen,” demanded Ntemwa.
The outspoken youth leader was also disappointed with what he described as the reluctance of regional leaders to engage their counterparts in Botswana and resolve the matter, singling out the regional police spokesperson who had earlier stated the Namibian fishermen were caught on the Botswana side of the river.
“The so-called joint patrol was only carried out by Botswana. Sergeant Kisco Sitali must withdraw his words if he is not familiar with the place. Those people were arrested on the Namibian side of Situngu Island. I am very disappointed with the regional leadership. This incident happened at the beginning of July but they are reluctant to engage their Botswana counterparts,” he lashed out.
However Zambezi Regional Governor Lawrence Sampofu who was yet to engage his counterpart in Botswana over the issue said he held a meeting with Namibian fisheries inspectors and was informed indeed the people arrested were on the Botswana side of the river.
“I am still waiting to meet the district commissioner in Botswana over the issue. Yesterday I called a meeting with fisheries inspectors. They told me they did a joint patrol with the police and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism from the 2nd of July. The coordinates on the map I was shown point that people were camped about 3 to 4 kilometres inside Botswana. They were even collecting firewood from there,” Sampofu said.
The station commander for Kachikau Police Station in Botswana where the Namibians were held, identified only as Samasasa, is quoted in the Sunday Standard, a Botswana weekly newspaper as having confirmed the incident although he denied claims of abductions and torture.
He is also quoted as having said that it was a joint operation between the two countries.
The two countries have had simmering tension emanating from territorial disputes before, particularly islands that are found adjacent to the game rich Chobe National Park. In 2012 relations between the two countries almost soured following the killing of two Namibians suspected to be poachers by the BDF at Nakabolelwa, another area bordering the two countries.
By George Sanzila