Councillor confirms BDF abductions
By George Sanzila
KATIMA MULILO – Linyanti Constituency Councillor Cletius Sipapela says there is a real likelihood that Namibian fishermen were abducted by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).
This follows recent claims that armed BDF soldiers illegally entered Namibia and ransacked the fishing camps along the Chobe River. They reportedly detained up to 70 Namibian fishermen – whom they allegedly also tortured – for four days.
Among the 70 detainees were about 19 women with children who are mostly fish vendors.
Although he was not aware of the exact number, Sipapela stated that following a meeting he had with the village induna and the community, it became evident that the fishermen detained by the BDF were seized from Situngu Island and in an area far from the beacons that serve as the frontier between Botswana and Namibia.
“I had a meeting with the induna and the community regarding the issue. Fishermen always camp at Situngu Island and Maunga. One of the camps is also known as Kasumbalesa, named after the lucrative fish market of Kasumbalesa in DRC. They however confirmed that the island where they were picked up is Situngu. You have to travel approximately two hours to reach the boundary from there,” said Sipapela.
According to Sipapela the fishermen had been camping in the area since November last year and never before encountered such a raid.
“These fishermen confirmed to me that they have been camping there since November last year. The Botswana (BDF) choppers have been flying there constantly but the fishermen had never before encountered something like this. From where they were picked up you have to walk almost two hours to reach the Chobe River. This is an island and it is on the Namibian side. This is where the induna confirmed to me that his people were abducted in Namibia,” narrated Sipapela.
Sipapela also echoed similar damning allegations made by youth activist Charles Siyauya who revealed the BDF raid, illegal detentions and the burning of the fishermen’s nets, fish and canoes.
“Fish nets, dry fish, canoes and blankets were confiscated and burned at the camp before the fishermen were taken to a certain BDF camp and then to Kachikau Detention Centre. While there they were coerced to confess they were arrested in Botswana,” said Sipapela.
Sipapela further alleged that those who failed to pay the fines imposed were severely beaten.
“On Monday those that failed to pay the fines were beaten and they couldn’t even sit in the vehicles. This was inhumane treatment,” fumed the councillor for Linyanti.
He also said that during one of his meetings with the community in April it had emerged that some of the community were unknowingly harvesting firewood on the Botswana side.
“In one of the meetings it came to our attention that some of the community members were collecting firewood on the Botswana side. I told them to stop. I understand a member of Nampol was taken to the area and shown footprints by the BDF but this could not be confirmed,” he stated.
He noted that people in the area are living in fear and that it was in the two countries’ best interest to sit and resolve the issues amicably.
“What is strange is that people in the constituency are seeing helicopters hovering above them every day and they are not free to even harvest reeds. People are living in fear. This is a shared resource and our citizens are denied their right. I will brief the governor and then we can engage our counterparts in Botswana. Central government has to help us. If it is indeed at Situngu Island, then our people were abducted by the BDF,” he further elaborated.
The Botswana High Commission maintained that it was a joint operation between the two authorities. “The information we have is that it was a joint operation. They caught these people on the Botswana side and they refused to go back. It appears they were not aware that they had crossed into Botswana because the beacons in that area are submerged by water,” stated a diplomat who preferred anonymity.
He could not explain why the Namibian authorities appeared unaware and did not even not know the exact number of those detained and why it took four days to release the detainees.
The diplomat also dismissed allegations of torture and the burning of the fishermen’s camps as a “fabrication.” “That is just fabrication. No such laws exists in Botswana,” insisted the diplomat.
Namibia and Botswana were previously locked in a territorial land dispute over