JRS Dispatches No. 63: Namibia

Namibia's decision to forgo its neutrality in the Angola conflict by allowing Angolan troops into its territory to attack UNITA has yielded serious consequences. JRS Southern Africa regional director, Joe Hampson SJ, writes: "Dispatches in September reported our visit to Namibia. Already JRS had made representation to UNHCR in Pretoria and Geneva about seeming Namibian complicity in refoulement of Angolans, especially young men of conscript age. We were told that UNHCR took the matter very seriously. Little did we know then that after the elections, Namibia would openly allow MPLA (government) troops access to its territory, Caprivi and northern Namibia, in their offensive against UNITA. In exchange, Namibia was to get new water rights and other benefits from Angola. The results were predictable. Northern Namibia fell prey to new levels of instability, banditry and even killings. In a two week period in December, 6,500 new refugees were moved from the border to the Osire camp. South African television at Christmas showed shocking pictures of an MPLA attack from Namibia on Angolan villages just over the border, with an eye- witness account of drugged soldiers on a raping and killing spree. On 6 January, a Namibian human rights NGO called for an investigation into Angolan recruitment of Namibian child soldiers and mercenaries, who are allegedly offered 700 US dollars per month (nearly three times what a Namibian soldier earns). As I write, a phone call from Windhoek tells me of a report of a six-year old child shot by Namibian police (the victim is Namibian, shot by the police as they chased suspected UNITA rebels). In short, to quote a recent IRIN (UN information agency) report, 'Namibia now finds itself irrevocably drawn into one of Africa's bloodiest and longest-running civil wars'."