Botswana this week recalled two senior diplomats based in Zimbabwe as the diplomatic row over three Batswana rangers arrested for entering Zimbabwe illegally escalated.
The government of Botswana said it would recall its defence and intelligence attaches by the end of the month and asked that Harare withdraw its defence and Central Intelligence Organization personnel from its Gaborone embassy by the same date.
The wildlife officials were picked up three weeks ago after ‘inadvertently’ straying into Zimbabwe as they were tracking lions that had killed some cattle in Lesoma village on the Botswana/Zimbabwean border.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe snubbed Botswana’s vice President Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe when he sought a meeting with him at a recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa. Merafhe wanted to propose a diplomatic solution to the bilateral security issue.
“Efforts by Botswana have included phone calls by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hon. Phandu Skelemani and the Botswana Police Commissioner, Mr. Thebeyame Tsimako to their counterparts in Zimbabwe to resolve this issue. These phone calls remain unreturned, giving the impression that the Government of Zimbabwe does not want to discuss this issue with Botswana.
”Additional efforts have included our Ambassador in Harare going to the Zimbabwe Foreign Ministry several times to seek their intervention on the matter as well as the Ambassador of Zimbabwe to Botswana being summoned twice to the Foreign Ministry to seek the Zimbabwe Government’s intervention in finding an amicable diplomatic solution to the problem,” stated a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
The ministry further stated that, “in view of the stance taken by the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe to rebuff all attempts by the Government of Botswana to find diplomatic and amicable solution to the problem, Botswana has taken a decision to recall its Defence and Intelligence Attach├®s from Zimbabwe by the end of February 2010. The Government of the Republic of Botswana expects the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe to reciprocate by recalling its Defence and Central Intelligence Organisation Attach├®s from Botswana by the same date. The position of the Government of Botswana is that these two posts should be frozen and never to be filled.”
The three officers are in police custody in Victoria Falls, some 800km from the capital Harare.
Skelemani told Sunday Standard that the Zimbabwean authorities’ decision went against the spirit of their relationship with Botswana. He explained that Botswana government security personnel have in the past sent back armed Zimbabwean security personnel who had strayed into Botswana without charging them. Sometime back, Zimbabwean security personnel were arrested by Botswana police while in the possession of ivory, but were allowed to go back home to stand trial.
Skelemani and Minister of Agriculture Christiaan De Graaf have also narrated incidences where they saw Zimbabwean soldiers crossing into Botswana at Ramokgwebana River, and peacefully instructed them to go back to their home country.
“We did this because we understand that there is no clear border fence in larger part of the Botswana-Zimbabwe border,” said Skelemani on Friday.
“The Zimbabwean authorities have said that they cannot intervene on the issue as the police have taken a decision to prosecute,” he said.
“I am aware that the Zimbabwean government is not very happy with our stance on their leadership. We are still on record as saying that the Zimbabweans should go back to the polls to elect a legitimate government. While that might have soured relations between us, it is the truth, and that is what we stand for,” he said on Friday.