Tuesday, January 18, 2022

BDF accused of ‘abducting’ Namibians at former disputed Sedudu Island

The Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has been accused of illegally entering Namibia and “abducting” about 70 Namibian fishermen. The alleged illegal entry and abduction of the fishermen reportedly occurred early in July at Sedudu Island, also known as Situngu Island in Kapani area west of the Zambezi Region in Namibia.

Namibia and Botswana were previously locked in a territorial land dispute over Sedudu Island and the matter was resolved by a 1999 decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which ruled in favour of Botswana.

The recent abduction allegations were made by two youth activists in the Zambezi Region in Namibia, Charles Siyauya and John Mtemwa.

Siyauya said the fishermen, who the BDF believed were fishing illegally in their waters, were subjected to torture and fines before being released, without knowledge of the Namibian authorities.
Nineteen of those detained were women with babies. They endured up to four days in detention.

Siyauya narrated how upon hearing about the incident he alerted the regional leadership but to no avail and took it upon himself to drive to Botswana “to see for myself”.

“We drove to the Kachikau police station of Chobe district where we were received by the station commander, Thomas Samasasa, who confirmed that about 70 Namibians were detained for illegally crossing into Botswana. We introduced ourselves as citizens following up on our family members abducted by the BDF. We asked to see one of the people abducted and he told us that they were arrested while on the Namibian side,” said the outspoken youth activist.

When Siyauya asked what would happen to those abducted, he was told by the station commander that a fine amounting to 100 pula (N$120) was applicable before deportation and failure to pay would result in corporal punishment with a cane.

He described the alleged incident as an act of terror and dismissed claims by the BDF that people arrested were illegal immigrants.

“The BDF entered Namibian territory without passports and with guns loaded with live ammunition. This incident occurred on Saturday, 5 July 2014 at the Namibian side of the Chobe River in the Kapani area. This is an act of terror and must be condemned by all peace-loving SADC citizens. None of the victims were poachers or illegal immigrants and BDF had no justification for their barbaric action,” charged Siyauya.

He further alleged that the BDF burnt the fish that was confiscated together with canoes and the makeshift tents that served as the fishermen’s shelter on the island. “The fishermen’s livelihood depends on the fish, nets and canoes that were set on fire by the BDF. As if that were not enough, the BDF further set fire to the camping facilities for fishermen and fish traders. We demand that the government of Botswana account for their senseless acts.”

For his part, Mtemwa who is a central committee member of Namibia’s ruling party SWAPO youth league, accused the BDF of “being ignorant on handling the lives of their neighbors, they abducted 70 fishermen, amongst them 19 were women and children.”

“They were abducted at Situngu island about two kilometers from Situngu to the main channel of the boundaries. They were taken to a certain village where they slept and transported to Kachikau the next day. They slept standing and when they were tired others stand so that others may sleep. They were fed once in a day at 22:00 at night, they stayed for four days and were never brought before a competent court of law, why, simply because they had no case. They were fined N$150 and those who never had money, they were subjected to be whipped at the traditional kgotla,” he said.

“Their nets, tents, canoes, money hidden in their tents were all burnt. They camped there for the past two years and this was the third year, everyday they were seeing the Botswana Helicopter above them and that day became different. Bad words were used such as this is a shared resources and you are finishing it. Even if we shoot you all our government will protect us. This is really bad, the friendship between the two countries is very worrisome and needs a urgent attention. About 30 lives have been lost for the past 23 years, where have you seen women being fisherwomen. Someone needs to tell the BDF to do what is right,” Mtemwa added.

Contacted for comment, Samasasa confirmed the incident. He said that they had a joint operation with their Namibian counterparts whereby security members from both countries patrolled along their borders and a number of nationals from various countries were arrested.

While confirming that they used equipment from the BDF because it was inaccessible and a number of various security agents were involved in the operation, Samasasa denied as untrue reports that the BDF tortured or abducted the suspects.

“We were with people who know how to use geographical maps and it was discovered that those people were indeed in our territory. It could be that they are not familiar with using geographical maps and ended up in our territory,” he said.

Namibia’s police regional spokesperson, Sergeant Kisco Sitali is quoted as saying that Namibians were arrested in the area together with other foreigners from Angola and Zambia they had employed as fishermen. He however said the Namibians arrested were found on the Botswana side of the river. “We are aware of the issue. People were arrested but we don’t know their number. They were detained at Kachikau in Botswana. Among them were Zambians and Angolans they had employed as fishermen. We visited the area where they were arrested and indeed we found that it was on the Botswana side,” said Sitali.

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