By Surihe Gaomas
The next directive to the Namibian Police on hundreds of demonstrating ex-combatants will come from Prime Minister Nahas Angula, as he was briefed yesterday about the latest turn of events by the Acting Inspector-General, the Deputy Inspector-General of Operations, Tuweefeni M’Lukeni.
At a brief press conference in Windhoek yesterday, the police cleared the matter saying that only pepper spray was used on the demonstrators, and not teargas, when the demonstrators refused to disperse during the sit-in that started on Monday.
The ex-combatants want to be paid compensation of N$500 000 per person or N$32 000 for each of the years they spent in the bush fighting for the liberation struggle.
“Pepper spray was used, and not teargas. There were no rubber bullets or beating up of the people. It is only in violent situations where we use teargas and batons,” explained M’Lukeni, adding that only four pepper spray canisters were used during Monday night’s incident.
Furthermore, it was reported that the police were instructed to use “minimum force” to disperse the ex-Plan fighters camped outside TeleCentre after marching from Katutura.
Although the police force members were fitted with batons, the regional police commander did not order them to use batons on the crowd.
“We gave them enough time to demonstrate that day and waited for them to disperse on their own. We engaged the leaders of the ex-combatants to encourage them to tell their people to go, but the leaders ignored the instruction,” said M’Lukeni, adding that the order to take action by removing the demonstrators with minimum force came from the Police chief, Inspector-General Sebastian Ndeitunga.
Besides denying the fact that teargas was not used, he added that the Special Reserve Force members were instructed to use “minimum force” to remove the people from what is reported to be government property. This means that ex-freedom fighters are illegally occupying that area in front of TeleCentre and the Ministry of Justice in town – and on that basis had to be removed by the police, as Chief of City Police Abraham Kanime explained at the press briefing yesterday.
” It is illegal for them to camp there because they did not get permission from the owner.
That is property owned by the government, and the police are the custodians of that area. It is not municipal land, so we are assigned to protect government properties,” said Kanime.
In actual fact, M’Lukeni stressed that unlike teargas, pepper spray is not harmful at all and can be used by the Special Reserve Force tasked to disperse a crowd.
“It is not harmful and it was only used to disperse the demonstrators, and the police are properly trained how to use it,” he reiterated.
Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (from “Oleoresin Capsicum”), OC gas, capsicum spray (or oleoresin capsicum) is a lachrymatory agent – a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and even temporary blindness – that is used in riot-control, crowd-control and personal self-defence, including defence against dogs and bears. It is a non-lethal agent.
Although the police deny that any beatings or forceful means were used to disperse the crowd, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) stated in the latest press release that 14 demonstrators – mostly women –
complained of various body and eye injuries after a riot police unit attempted to break up the demonstrators.
“In an ugly incident reminiscent of the apartheid police brutality, Ester Haikali (30), Hilma Angula (47), Levi Mwaala (38), Cecilia Amadhila (49) and Rosalia Nghishipelwa (32) complained of breathing complications, while Ndeshipewa Nghishimule (43), Selma Kalimbo (20), Ottilie Ndemuula (44) and Erika Munashimwe (43) were admitted to the Windhoek State Hospital unable to see and with bleeding noses.”
Meanwhile, the Congress of Democrats in a press statement yesterday condemned the use of force against former freedom fighters who were involved in a peaceful demonstration on Monday.
“We believe the ex-combatants have the right to demonstrate for 24 hours per day, all seven days of the week, if they so wish as long as they do not use violence,” stated CoD Party President Ben Ulenga.
He further suggested the government “genuinely and positively commit itself to solve the ex-combatants’ problems and start immediate negotiations with the chosen representatives of the ex-fighters.”
As they now enter their third day of demonstrations, ever since they started on Monday, the ex-freedom fighters are still camped out at the premises in their bid to demand for their compensation.
The demonstrators are demanding compensation and demobilization payments which they say were promised to them during the 1989 repatriation process under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR).