6 June 2007

Namibia: Cops Defend Gassing of Combatants

THE Police yesterday said they had acted correctly in their actions against former Plan combatants demonstrating in front of the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs on Monday night.

As demonstrators continued to stand in front of the building yesterday, the Acting Inspector General of the Namibian Police, Major General Tuweefeni M'Lukeni, called a press conference to explain the Police's actions.

At around 18h00 on Monday, Police used pepper spray against a small group of demonstrators who decided to remain in front of the Veterans' Affairs Ministry, where earlier in the day they had delivered a petition to the concerned Minister, Ngarikutuke Tjiriange.

About 10 people were apparently beaten by members of the Police, who are said to have kicked them and used batons in an effort to get them to disperse.

M'Lukeni started the press conference by reading a letter which had been sent to the leadership of the demonstrating group by the Inspector General of the Namibian Police, Major General Sebastian Ndeitunga, on May 22.

General Ndeitunga is out of the country at the moment.

In the letter, Ndeitunga informed group leader Ruusa Malulu that they would be allowed to march from Greenwell Matongo to the Ministry's offices, but only to hand over their petition.

Unless they obtained approval from the Windhoek Municipality, to which the grounds belong, they would have to leave after handing over their petition, he told them.

Failing that, they would be guilty of trespassing, and the Police would therefore be within their right to use "minimal force" as required to make them move, he said.

"Police were there from the start-up to the handover.

Then we even gave them enough time to disperse," M'Lukeni said.

He said teargas had not been used against the demonstrators.

They had in fact used pepper spray, he said.

"We have stages.

The leaders of the group were engaged first and asked to ask their members to move, but they refused.

Then it was decided that minimum force would be used to get them to disperse," the Acting Inspector General said.

The Police used four canisters of pepper spray on the marchers, he said.

M'Lukeni said no orders were given to use physical force against the demonstrators, and sounded shocked when National Society for Human Rights Society (NSHR) spokesperson Dorkas Phillemon revealed that the organisation was in possession of video clips showing the Police's Task Force assaulting demonstrators.

"I can say that Police were not instructed to do that.

I cannot confirm (whether anyone had been assaulted), but we were in touch (with our members) all along, and that order was not given," he told reporters.

Asked why the Police had not followed through with their action, but left the protesters there after this first attempt to disperse them failed, M'Lukeni said he could not reveal the Police's next step to the media.

"That one I will not tell you.

We have to report to the Prime Minister who is now the [acting] President of this country [while President Hifikepunye Pohamba is on a visit to the UK]", he said.

The NSHR's Phillemon wanted to know whether the Police had received any complaint from the Windhoek municipality which prompted them to take action against the demonstrators.

"Trespassing is only trespassing if someone lays a complaint," Phillemon said.

City Police Chief Abraham Kanime responded that the open area the demonstrators are occupying actually belongs to Government, and therefore the Police had the right to "act as custodians of such grounds".

The NSHR on Monday night released the names of those who were hospitalised following the Police action.

Ndeshipewa Nghishimule (43), Selma Kalimbo (20), Ottilie Ndemuula (44) and Erika Munashimwe (43) were all reportedly rushed to the Windhoek State Hospital with bleeding noses and eyesight problems, the NSHR said.

The NSHR also revealed the names of five people who were allegedly assaulted with rubber batons.

In related news, Congress of Democrats (CoD) leader Ben Ulenga yesterday condemned the action against the demonstrators, calling it "ill-intentioned, unprovoked, cruel and uncalled for".

"We believe the ex-combatants have the right to demonstrate for 24 hours per day all seven days of the week if they so wish as long as they do not use violence," Ulenga said.

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