Britain treads carefully on Koevoet demands

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Purely domestic… Former members of SWATF and Koevoet have been camping at the Commando Red Flag in Katutura for more than eight months.

Windhoek

The British government yesterday said it sees the demands by former SWATF and Koevoet members – to be recognised as war veterans entitled to benefits stipulated in the Veterans Act of 2008 – as a purely Namibian domestic issue which must be handled internally.

Former SWATF and Koevoet members on Monday marched under the auspices of the Namibia War Veterans Trust to the British High Commission offices in Windhoek to hand over a petition in which they asked the international community to put pressure on the Namibian government to recognise them.

SWATF (South-West Africa Territorial Force) was an auxiliary arm of the South African Defence Force and comprised the armed forces of South-West Africa (now Namibia) from 1977 to 1989.

It emerged as a product of South Africa’s political control of the territory which was granted to the former as a League of Nations mandate following World War I.

Similarly, Koevoet was a major paramilitary organisation under apartheid South Africa and an active belligerent in the Namibian war of independence from 1979 to 1990.

Both SWATF and Koevoet are known to have perpetrated gross violations of human rights, including killings of civilians during Namibia’s liberation struggle.

The Namibian government enacted the Veterans Act in 2008, which makes provision for, amongst others, compensation as a token of appreciation to those who fought for – not against – Namibia’s independence.

It is this law that has smoked former SWATF and Koevoet members out of their comfort, saying they too participated in the war and should be conferred a war veteran status to benefit from the spoils provided for in the law.

The Namibian government maintains a hardcore stance that it will not recognise these former soldiers, as this would mean endorsing their heinous acts against Namibians who fiercely fought against apartheid.

Several high-profile government officials in Namibia, including Cabinet ministers and presidents, have vowed never to recognise SWATF and Koevoet former members as fighters for the country’s independence.

Responding to New Era questions yesterday, the British High Commission in Windhoek said it had received several letters from these groups of former soldiers, but considers the matter as purely domestic for Namibia.

Commenting on the petition it received on Monday, the mission’s spokesperson Hans-Christian Mahnke said: “The British High Commission notes the petition and has forwarded it to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

“The Namibia War Veterans Trust has sent the High Commission letters and notifications on related issues in the past. The British government continues to regard this as an internal domestic matter for the Namibian government.”

Asked what recommendations or instructions accompanied the petition to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mahnke said: “There is a general rule under international law, which is that Namibia is a sovereign state with a right to conduct its internal affairs as it wishes.”

“The petitioners in their own words ‘appeal to the international communities [sic!] (British High Commission) to give pressure to the [Namibian] state to rectify its mistake by amending the Veteran Act” [of 2008],” he said.

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