Friday, June 18, 2021

Botswana, Namibia soldiers nearly clash at border

Reports from Namibian media indicate that Botswana Defence Force (BDF) patrol unit could have been involved in a brutal border clash with their counterparts from the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) following an alleged attack by the former’s soldiers on a group of Namibian fishermen who set up temporary camp along the Linyanti River.

It is understood that four temporary fishing camps along the Linyanti River, believed to belong to Namibians, were gutted by fire after a raid allegedly carried out by the BDF soldiers.

According to the Namibian newspaper, Namibian Special Field Force (SFF) soldiers summoned to the area by Zambezi Regional Police Commander, Boniface Mukendwa, could not cross the river as they were not equipped with boats. They also could not cross the river because they did not have enough human power and had no Global Positioning System (GPS) technology that showed the two countries’ boundary lines.

SFF Warrant Officer, German Johannes, is quoted as saying that they could only observe the helicopter activity and smoke billowing into the sky from the sites pointed out to them as those belonging to Namibians.

“We could not cross and approach the BDF, as we did not have the tools needed to show us whether indeed the local fishermen’s houses were set on Namibian or foreign ground,” Johannes was quoted as saying.

He added that “we choose to play it safe out of fear of starting a gunfight with the BDF soldiers, who are usually trigger-happy to shoot foreigners. At the point where we stood, we could all see the helicopter landing and taking off, and could also hear chopping sounds.”

Police Inspector-General, Sebastian Ndeitunga is quoted as saying: “What I heard was that there were illegal fishermen and women fishing on an island which is inside Botswana. The BDF went there with the helicopter to chase them away. If it were us, we would have sent in the police to handle this matter and not the army, but I guess every country has its own way of dealing with issues.”

Ndeitung added that “The allegation is that the island is in Namibia, but when the officials went there it was discovered that it is not in Namibia. Nobody was shot as was reported. It seems some of them were taken by BDF. I am not sure at this point.”

Ndeitunga said the SPF patrols three ports of entry in the Zambezi Region.

“If we need equipment for our people patrol effectively, we will look into that, but we have two boats there. Our SPF commander in the area went up to where the helicopter landed with a GPS and it was clear that it was in Botswana. The Namibian fishermen settled on the island and the Botswana authorities found out. They sent the BDF, who destroyed the huts and drove them off the island,” said Ndeitunga.

He further observed that “This area is not easy to patrol. Some days ago, we arrested more than a hundred illegal fishermen and women, some of whom came from as far as far the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia.
This area is not easy to drive out to, as it is too low.”

Reports indicate that the BDF on Saturday morning pounced on the Namibian fishermen and women living at the camps, claiming their reed structures were built on foreign soil and that they were conducting illegal fishing activities.

During the raid, clothes, identification cards, passports, fishing permits, food stuff, beds, cooking utensils, including large blocks of salt, were all burnt near Mawunga village in the Linyanti Constituency.

According to the victims, an unknown number of Namibians ran and hid in the reeds, while many others were allegedly rounded up during the raid which started at 07:00. Of those allegedly arrested, two are women with two children under the age of six.

“When we saw two BDF helicopters flying over the camp, we suspected trouble was coming our way, so we all started running in different directions, while others were preparing to jump into canoes.

“However, the BDF soldiers moved in on us so fast and started questioning us about why we had set up house on their soil,” said Mulonga Muluti.

He said none of those who set up the camp were found with fresh or dry fish, as most of them arrived at the area last Thursday and Friday evening.

“I was in the canoe with two women and about to row away with our hands, when one BDF soldier pointed a gun at us and demanded we jump out. I refused and dove into the river and managed to swim across to safety.

“From the shore, I could see the soldiers burning the huts down, while other soldiers were chopping our canoes into pieces.

I do not understand the reason why we were attacked as we set up camps on the Namibian side of the river and did not have any fish on us,” said Muluti.

Another victim Precious Muyoba narrated she was left with only the clothes she was wearing and that her husband Eustace Kasale phoned to inform her that he is in the custody of BDF at the Kachikau Police Station in Botswana, along with two Namibian women.

At the scene, a handful of aggrieved fishermen and women were chanting and shouting profanities at the BDF.

Kachikao Police Station Commander Thomas Samasasa confirmed to The Telegraph on Monday that the county’s law enforcement officers arrested a number of foreign nationals in connection with illegal fishing. “We had an operation over the weekend in which a number of various nationals from various neighbouring countries were nabbed for illegal fishing,” he said.

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