Zimbabwe/Botswana Tensions Rise

The three DWNP officers were arrested on January 19 after they strayed into Zimbabwe while tracking lions that had been wrecking havoc in Lesona, a village near the border between the two countries. The officers, who were armed and were travelling in a Botswana government vehicle, are said to have failed to notice the borderline, which is marked by a small dust road, and were arrested on their way back to the Botswana side of the border. Since then, they have been detained at Hwange police station.

Repeated attempts by the Botswana government at various levels to resolve the matter have fallen on deaf ears. The officers appeared in court on February 1, but were further detained to next Monday, despite repeated attempts by the Botswana government to find an amicable diplomatic solution.

In a statement, the Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “deep disappointment over the detention of the three wildlife officers in Zimbabwe despite attempts at finding an amicable diplomatic solution”.

“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,” reads the statement.

“These phone calls remain unreturned, giving the impression that the Government of Zimbabwe does not want to discuss this issue with Botswana.”

The country’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Gladys Kokorwe has also held numerous meetings with officers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Director of Protocol and the Legal Affairs department, but all these have not brought about anything. Botswana has also twice summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador in that country, but in vain. Kokorwe held another meeting with government representatives on Friday, but details were not immediately available.

Even interventions at the highest level have failed. At the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa early this week, Botswana Vice President Mompati Merafhe tried unsuccessfully to discuss the issue with President Robert Mugabe and Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.

“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 Attachés from Zimbabwe by the end of February 2010,” adds the statement.

“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 Attachés 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.”

There are growing suspicions in Botswana that the Zimbabwean government may use the arrest of the game scouts to prove its repeated claims that Botswana is sponsoring acts of insurgency in the country.