The wildlife officials were picked up two weeks ago after ‘inadvertently’ straying into Zimbabwe as they were tracking lions that had killed some cattle in Lesoma village in Botswana.
Botswana’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe Gladys Kokorwe told SW Radio Africa on Friday that the wildlife officers had been dispatched to the border area to help search for the marauding lions.
“The officers were new to the area and they got lost. They decided to follow a gravel road in the hope of meeting people who would help them with directions. After traveling some distance they saw a Zimbabwe flag and decided to approach the people there,” Ambassador Kokorwe said.
The officers reportedly presented themselves to what is now believed to have been a border patrol team from Zimbabwe and told them of their predicament and that they were lost and looking for directions.
“Unfortunately, after talking to three people there, they eventually found themselves in the hands of the police. Frustratingly, all our efforts to have the officers released have been ignored by our counterparts here in Harare,” claimed the Ambassador. The officers have since appeared in court in Victoria Falls and are now awaiting a magistrate’s judgment, due on Monday next week.
The Ambassador revealed that Foreign Affairs officials in Harare only reacted to their enquiries after her government ordered the recall of the diplomats. Efforts by Botswana to have the wildlife officers released included high level phone calls by Foreign Affairs Minister Phandu Skelemani and Police Commissioner Thebeyame Tsimako to their counterparts in Harare.
As a last endeavor, earlier this week the Vice President of Botswana Mompati Merafhe attempted to meet Robert Mugabe in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa at the African Union summit but was rebuffed.
“So my government said – enough is enough – and decided to recall the defence and intelligence attaches from the embassy here in Harare in the hope that Zimbabwe will do the same from its embassy in Gaborone at the end of this month,” Ambassador Kokorwe said.
Analysts in diplomacy say Botswana’s action to recall the diplomats shows it means business over the issue, and 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 pas, especially in 2008 when Robert Mugabe’s regime accused Botswana of training MDC bandits and militia to overthrow the government.