Botswana, Namibia diplomatic row feared as BDF kills Namibian poachers

24 May 2015

A diplomatic row may be looming between Gaborone and Windhoek following an incident in which the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) anti poaching team gunned down three alleged poachers believed to be Namibian nationals.

Reports indicate that the bodies of the three alleged poachers are lying at the Letsholathebe Hospital in Maun.

In 2012 following the shooting of its two citizens also believed to be poachers, Namibia warmed Botswana that it does not condone poaching, but called for restraint when using force.

A statement from BDF issued on Friday this week states that its patrol team deployed in the Kwando area in northern Botswana shot and killed three poachers who were in possession of elephant tusks on 15 May.

BDF says that it was exercising its mission of defending Botswana’s territorial integrity and national interests.

“BDF commended Namibian rangers for information, which led to the successful interception of the poachers. The matter had since been handed over to Botswana Police Service for conclusion,” reads the statement.

In a previous interview with Sunday Standard at the end of Africa Elephant Summit that was held in Gaborone, Environment Wildlife and Tourism Minister, Tshekedi Khama said the government had since adopted a “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers as a radical measure to curb the mass slaughter of elephants in the country.

He said the shoot to kill policy had proved an effective deterrent as it sent a clear message to poachers that they would be shot dead on the spot when caught poaching. “These poachers break many laws when they enter our country.  Firstly they come armed with military weapons and secondly they enter the country at non gazetted points. Thirdly they engage in poaching which is illegal,’ said Khama. Asked if the move would not create diplomatic tensions in the event that foreign poachers die during exchange of fire with anti poaching agents, Khama said neighbouring countries are aware of the “shoot to kill” stance that has been adopted by Botswana. “These people do not only shoot elephants but also other species. If they decide not to surrender and try to fight their way out, we will shoot them,” he said.

The Environment Wildlife and Tourism Minister explained that had Botswana not adopted the shoot to kill policy, the country would lose a number of elephants to poachers. On suggestions that poachers have as much rights to be tried in courts like other offenders instead of being executed without trial, Khama insisted that it is unfortunate that the shoot to kill policy has proved to be an effective deterrent. “Unfortunately it is what is working at the moment,” he said.

Khama said recorded cases of Batswana being involved in poaching are very few adding that they were responding positively to the education on the disadvantages of poaching.

“It is not the route that we would like to take but we have no choice because we believe that this is an effective deterrent. Poachers who enter Botswana for purposes of poaching should be aware that they will lose their lives,” he warned. Khama said he was aware that human rights defenders and international conservationists are likely to condemn Botswana’s stance that perpetrators of the illicit ivory trade be executed “on the spot” but said that “no, personally as Tshekedi I do not subscribe to the notion that the shoot to kill is not a good practice.”