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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 19:55 GMT 20:55 UK

World: Africa

Namibia admits Caprivi abuses

The Namibian Government has admitted for the first time that its security forces committed human rights abuses in the troubled Caprivi Strip in the north-east of the country.

Allegations of human rights violations surfaced following a round-up of suspects after an attack by Caprivi secessionists on the town of Katima Mulilo on 2 August.

[ image: Defence Minister Erkki Nghimtina: concern over Namibia's image (Photo: The Namibian)]
Defence Minister Erkki Nghimtina: concern over Namibia's image (Photo: The Namibian)
"Definitely we made some mistakes regarding human rights abuses," Defence Minister Erkki Nghimtina told The Namibian newspaper.

The Namibian National Society for Human Rights, based in the capital, Windhoek, said up to 500 people thought to be linked to the so-called Caprivi Liberation Army had been arrested and "subjected to acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman treatment and punishment."

However, Mr Nghimtina said about 100 people had been arrested including alleged rebels believed to have attacked an army base, police station and regional radio station.

He said the majority of human rights violations took place in the first few days after the attack, when emotions were running high.

"Laudable record"

Mr Nghimtina visited the Caprivi region on Tuesday with Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo to instruct commanding officers to stop the mistreatment of prisoners.

"We made mistakes which we are not going to repeat again. I hope no more assaults will happen," he told The Namibian.

"We don't want to destroy the image of our country through our actions. There has to be an improvement," he said.

He said Namibia had a laudable record on human rights and disciplinary action would be taken against members of the security forces who beat or tortured detainees.

Three police officers and three soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Newspaper reports say that former opposition MP Geoffery Mwilima was severely beaten by security forces, suffering a broken jaw.

Under a state of emergency declared after the attack, the security forces are not obliged to bring suspects to court within a specified time.

Prisoners are also barred from receiving vistors, although they have the right to see a lawyer.

Unrest in the Caprivi Strip has been simmering for months

Late last year several hundred alleged secessionists crossed the border into Botswana, after the Namibian authorities said they had discovered a secret training camp.

The leader of the secessionists, Mishake Myongo, who is now in exile in Denmark, has described this month's raid as "just the beginning" of the struggle for independence.

He said that since Namibian independence in 1990, the Caprivi Strip had suffered rising unemployment and crumbling infrastructure.

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