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Mystery 'soldiers' threaten chaos?

Staff Writer
A group of anonymous soldiers in the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has threatened to wreak havoc before end of this month.

The group also claims responsibility for the veldt fires that have swept across the country since August, in a paper circulated to media houses. The fires have ravaged the country's tourist destinations such as the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), Tsodilo Hills, National Parks and grazing land.

The group had earlier threatened to derail Botswana Railways trains to cripple its operations during Independence holidays, but their threats never materialised.  

Yesterday deputy commander of (BDF) and Commander of the BDF Air Arm Major General Gobuamang Thokwane downplayed the threats, describing them as "unfortunate". 

In an exclusive interview with Mmegi, Thokwane said the threats are empty, but BDF would continue with investigations to determine if perpetrators are from its ranks. He confirmed that a similar document has reached BR and Btv chiefs. "It is difficult to deal with faceless people, very difficult, because as you know they send you these papers without mentioning their names. They also make veiled threats and even give themselves organisation and capabilities they don't have," he said. 

He warned that those found responsible for the paper will face the music. He revealed that the same group had threatened to derail all BR trains during the independence holidays, but nothing took place.

He said that the so-called soldiers are overstating their capabilities by claiming that they are responsible for the veldt fires that are occurring even in neighbouring countries.

He said last month BDF deployed 2,000 soldiers to fight fires, but there was resistance.

"These threats are unfortunate because Batswana in general are known to be a disciplined nation."

The anonymous group members demand a salary hike. He stated that the demand comes at a time when government is doing something about the salary structure, and allowances of the military personnel.

He said they have discussed the salary issue with the Security Council and the Minister of Justice and expressed hope that things will soon improve.

He

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found it difficult to link the salary issue with the 2001 issue in which some anonymous soldiers threatened the then commander-in-chief and former president Festus Mogae, there have been salary reviews since then.  The deputy commander said, "if in fact it's a matter of salaries", in 2001 and then 2007 there were salary reviews in between. "I find it difficult what the demand is here," he said. He is convinced that their continued engagement with government on the conditions of service for soldiers has been for their (soldiers') benefit. 

"At some point we even asked the government to have two parallel structures for officers and for other ranks to remove the gap on the other ranks side," he said. The gap was subsequently closed.

Thokwane denied that recently there has been an exodus of skilled personnel from the BDF following a delay in the implementation of government Retention Allowance - Scarce Skills. "Not that I am aware of.  Some people know a lot about this force than we do. In the past, before the approval of scarce skills allowance that's when we lost quantity surveyors, pilots and other qualified personnel, but since the introduction of scarce skills allowance things have improved," he said.  

He was not moved by orders in the paper that government must do something before end of this month. The deputy commander regretted that these threats have the potential to dent the BDF image of a disciplined force internationally, but emphasised that BDF has many disciplined members than the faceless gang. He felt that the faceless officers (if they are genuine) must follow the proper channels to negotiate with their employer rather than make empty threats. He stated that the same faceless officers are going to claim credit for any improvement in the conditions of service for the BDF because they know that something is in the pipeline.



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