Botswana-Zimbabwe diplomatic relations take a damaging turn

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Diplomatic relations between Botswana and Zimbabwe have taken a damaging twist with the former recalling its defence and intelligence attaches from Zimbabwe. Botswana says it now expects Zimbabwe to reciprocate by also recalling its Defence and Central Intelligence Organisation Attachés.

The row was sparked three weeks after three Batswana rangers were arrested for entering Zimbabwe illegally. The wildlife officials were picked up after ‘inadvertently’ straying into Zimbabwe as they were tracking lions that had killed some cattle in Lesoma village on the Botswana/Zimbabwean border.

A press release from the Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation says it has taken the drastic move after it felt snubbed by Zimbabwe.

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

”Additional efforts have included our Ambassador in Harare going to the Zimbabwe Foreign Ministry several times to seek their intervention on the matter as well as the Ambassador of Zimbabwe to Botswana being summoned twice to the Foreign Ministry to seek the Zimbabwe Government’s intervention in finding an amicable diplomatic solution to the problem,” reads part of the statement.

It further said that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe snubbed Botswana’s vice President Lt. Gen. Mompati Merafhe when he sought a meeting with him at a recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa. Merafhe wanted to propose a diplomatic solution to the bilateral security issue.

The ministry further stated that, “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.

“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.”

The three officers are in police custody in Victoria Falls, some 800km from the capital Harare.

Botswana says Zimbabwean authorities’ decision went against the spirit of their relationship with it Botswana. It said in the past armed Zimbabwean security personnel who had strayed into Botswana have been sent back to Zimbabwe without a charge.

Analysts say Botswana’s action to recall the diplomats intends to send ‘a clear signal’ to Zimbabwean authorities about the seriousness with which they regard the rebuff. Relations between the two countries have been chilly – and look set to get colder following Botswana’s position that the two posts of defence and intelligence attaché be frozen, and are never to be filled.

Such a move by Botswana is rare especially among SADC states, but is used as a peaceful warning shot when countries fail to find common ground on controversial subjects.

Zimbabwe and Botswana have not enjoyed the best of relations in the past, especially in 2008 when Robert Mugabe’s regime accused Botswana of training MDC bandits and militia to overthrow the government.

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