Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Commander Gaolathe Galebotswe on Monday sought to justify the killing of suspected poachers saying they were armed and a danger to the patrolling team.
Botswana has since made it public that it has adopted a “shoot to kill” as a radical measure to curb the mass slaughter of wild animals especially elephants and rhinos.
Recently BDF soldiers fatally shot two Namibian Nationals and a Zambian near Shakawe village in the Kwando area in northern Botswana.
Appearing before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee on Monday Galebotswe said “how do you deal with an armed person? You deal with him by bringing in someone who is also armed to match him hence the involvement of the Botswana Defence Force in the anti-poaching missions.”
According to Galebotswe the reason they got involved in the anti poaching operations in 1987 was because of the armed poachers from other countries that were involved in poaching activities in the country. “That is why we deployed the military to deal with the anti poaching,” he said.
The BDF commander said they have never encountered a local armed poacher but if it happens that they encounter one they will be also enforce “shoot to kill” strategy.
PAC member and Selebi Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse wanted to know whether the orders are to shoot to kill poachers.
Galebotswe said as military they have not been given orders to shoot to kill; there are certain conditions that ‘trigger’ a soldier to shoot to kill.
“It does not necessary mean that the conditions only apply for anti poaching missions, it can be any other operations, for example if I am a soldier and I see someone killing someone I am not going to arrest that someone I am going to shoot to kill,” he said.
He added that when his soldiers encounter armed poachers it will depend on how the armed poachers react to the challenge.
“If the poachers react in an aggressive manner when challenged, it will endanger who? An individual soldier; or that team of soldiers on the ground, it is not negotiable the response will be to shoot to kill, you cannot incapacitate, how do you measure incapacitation? How will you know that you are going to shoot the thigh? You may aim for the head and end up shooting other body parts,” Galebotswe said rhetorically.
The commander said in the military when a soldier decides to use a weapon they use it for a purpose to do something otherwise they shouldn’t do it.
“Because poaching is not only external, we also have poachers from within; obliviously in that case we have sets of orders; orders dealing with poachers that are armed and orders dealing with poachers that are not armed which are usually locals,” explained Galebotswe.
Keorapetse also wanted to know to what extent is the army prepared for operations like anti poaching.
“Do we train the armed forces enough because they are not trained to enforce the law and when they go on anti poaching missions I would like to believe that they should apprehend criminals who would be in any mission to steal our animals,” he said.
Galebotswe said the BDF operation in the anti poaching mission is only to enhance the Wildlife Department as an organisation mandated to police wild animals.
He said initially it was much easier for Wildlife Department to deal with issues of anti poaching because they expected people who are not armed; now when armed people became got involved it complicated the situation.
“Is the army the appropriate body to do the anti-poaching? Or should that mandate fall within the wildlife with proper capacity like they are doing in other countries?” asked Keorapetse.
Replying Keorapetse the BDF commander said “we prepare our soldiers; we have pre deployment training before they embark on the anti poaching missions.”