Friday, July 12, 2024

Gaborone, Windhoek diplomatic tensions loom

Tensions are likely to rise between Botswana and Namibia over the killing of four allegedly unarmed Namibian citizens by the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) over poaching allegations.

The BDF released a statement this week confirming the killings which happened on the night of November 5, 2020 in the Sedudu area along the Chobe River.

“In its mission of defending Botswana’s Territorial Integrity, Sovereignty and National Interests, the Botswana Defense force informs the public about an incident between members of the BDF and poachers which resulted in four poachers being killed,” the statement reads.

The BDF says the incident involved contact with what they call a syndicate of poachers believed to be part of a network responsible for cross border organized poaching.

While the statement claims the four were poachers, nowhere does it allude to the “poachers” being armed or there having been an exchange of fire between the Namibians and the BDP personnel.

The statement only makes reference to an alarming surge of organized poaching for rhinos and elephants particularly around the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park.

A source has however told The Telegraph that the four Namibians did not pose a threat to the BDF because they were not armed.

“All I know for now is they were unarmed.  I assume from my past experience they were trying to cross into the country either to poach although they had no weapons or to lay their fishing nets across the river and thus cross the international boundary at night to avoid detection,” he said. He said the reference to rhino poaching in relation to the incident does not make geographical sense because there are no rhinos in the Chobe area. “This is a cover up. There are no rhinos in Chobe.”

The killing of the ‘unarmed’ Namibians again raises concerns about Botswana’s ‘shoot on sight’ or ‘shoot to kill’ policy on poaching.  

In 2012 following the shooting of its two citizens also believed to be poachers, Namibia called for Botswana to exercise restraint when using force.

This week Namibian media reported on the deaths saying three of the four killed “fishermen” were brothers.

“Inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga says family members informed the police that they went fishing at the river and never returned. Police officers close by allegedly heard shots in the area between 20h00 and 21h00 on Thursday. Ndeitunga says when the Namibian Defence Force asked the BDF about this, they confirmed having shot and killed four men who were allegedly illegally fishing close to Kasika village near Kasane,” The Namibian newspaper has reported.

 
The paper quoted a political leader from Namibia’s Zambezi region as having asked Namibians on social media to protest against the “barbaric action”. He complained about their people being shot dead by BDF and accused the two governments and their media of being quite about the killings saying they seem to see nothing wrong.

 
“A group of concerned people from the Zambezi region living in other parts of Namibia has created a WhatsApp group in the hope of attracting international attention to Botswana’s reaction to foreign nationals along its northern borders,” the paper reported.

Botswana’s ‘shoot to kill’ policy was introduced by then Minister of Environment Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama as a radical measure to curb the mass poaching of elephants in the country. He said at the time that 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 ungazetted points. Thirdly they engage in poaching which is illegal,” Khama said. He said neighbouring countries like Namibia were aware of the “shoot to kill” stance that has been adopted by Botswana. Botswana has now killed dozens of Namibians in the fight against poaching.

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