October 10, 2005

Government denies claims of ethnic cleansing

The government of Botswana has rejected the accusations that Bushmen were being evicted at gunpoint from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) as "absolute rubbish". In a statement, 'Ethnic Cleansing Reaches Final Phase', the London-based rights group, Survival International, said police carried out forced removals of Bushmen from the CKGR. A local Bushmen rights group, First People of the Kalahari, claimed police were "setting fire to their huts".

The government maintained they had merely assisted a group of Bushmen, who had returned to the reserve after having been resettled outside the park, to leave the CKGR voluntarily because their livestock were diseased. According to the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the residents of Molapo settlement in the CKGR "requested that they be transported back to the village where the came from, New Xade. Government facilitated their transport - 34 people in total - to the village on the 7th and 8th October 2005". Another "12 people from Metsiamanong settlement also requested for transport to New Xade, and government again facilitated their return to that village and the houses they have there". Officials alleged that several Bushmen had said they were returning to New Xade so they could claim their old-age pensions. "Contrary to some reports, at no time was anyone removed forcibly or at gunpoint".

Survival however, reported that the "the police have told them [Bushmen still in the CKGR] they will be killed, and are following them to prevent them hunting or gathering any food". According to the rights group, the "Botswana government had been trying to get the Gana and Gwi Bushmen off their ancestral lands after diamonds had been discovered". Survival's Stephen Corry accused the government of "ethnic cleansing".

Presidential spokesman Jeff Ramsay said that those accusations were "absolute rubbish, an insult and a disgrace". "The group [of Bushmen] who requested to go back to New Xade were facilitated in doing so," he said. "The whole return exercise was fully filmed and documented so anybody is free to see in its unedited form if they like - it runs for a couple of hours."

Botswana's government had resorted to "filming these things" due to the number of accusations it has faced with regard to its dealings with the Bushmen. "We're not taking any chances," Ramsay added. He admitted that tensions had escalated in recent weeks, when "a group of people tried to enter the park and police fired rubber bullets and teargas", but said there "is no ethnic cleansing in the CKGR; there's no shooting [of people] in the CKGR". (IRIN)

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