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Zim-Botswana diplomatic row looms over arrested officers

Staff Writer
The arrest of three Botswana wildlife officers in Zimbabwe last week is threatening to trigger a diplomatic row between the two countries. So far, Botswana Foreign Affairs Minister, Phandu Skelemani has expressed his frustration at the way Zimbabwe has handled the matter.

Skelemani said on Tuesday that he met the Zimbabwe High Commissioner in Botswana to lodge a complaint about the treatment of the officers but the response was not satisfactory. "The response was that the (Zimbabwe) police have made up their mind that the three should go to trial and there was nothing they could do as government," Skelemani explained.

To further complicate the situation, Skelemani's attempts to speak to the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister have been fruitless. Skelemani said that he tried to phone his Zimbabwean counterpart but could not get to him because he was said to be either too busy or out of the office. The minister never bothered to return calls, said a frustrated Skelemani. The minister, who was still in shock at the message which Zimbabwe government is trying to convey in the case of the three officers said he would try to meet the country's Foreign Affairs Minister at the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa today. He added that the Botswana High Commission in Zimbabwe is working hard to secure a defence lawyer for the three officers. He said the lawyer will apply for bail today. He was hoping that the officers

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would be granted bail to return home to face trial.

The three officers are in police custody in Victoria Falls some 800km from the capital Harare. Skelemani said the Zimbabwe High Commissioner in Botswana had hinted that the police took the decision to charge the officers because illegal entry into their country was common in the Kasane/Kazungula area. He said that he was surprised at the way the Zimbabwe government is handling the matter.  He said that in the past they have sent back

Zimbabwe security officers and citizens who strayed into Botswana without charging them. He said that some Zimbabweans were caught crossing into Botswana with ivory but were sent back to their country to face trial. In another incident, Skelemani and Minister of Agriculture Christiaan De Graaf saw Zimbabwean soldiers crossing into Botswana at Ramokgwebana River but they peacefully told them that they were on the Botswana side. There is no border fence in several places between the two countries.

Skelemani explained that whenever they try to erect a fence, elephants destroy it. He said that the two countries are separated by a borderline that is difficult to detect during rainy seasons.



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