Botswana police crack down in disputed reserve

Police in Botswana say they are cracking down on poaching in a game reserve, but a rights group says the move is an attempt to intimidate Bushmen who went to court to secure their right to live in the area.

Police spokesman Christopher Mbulawa, responding by e-mail over the weekend to questions from The Associated Press, said police established special camps across the country as a crime-prevention strategy. He said a police camp near a settlement of Bushmen, also known as the Basarwa, was set up in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve "to deal with the escalating poaching in the area."

In a statement last week, Survival International's Director Stephen Corry called the camp an "attempt to intimidate and undermine the human rights the Bushmen battled to save."

In 2002, the government evicted Bushmen from their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The Bushmen took the government to court and in 2006 won the right to return to desert-like homelands. Hundreds returned, only to find the government denying them permission to drill for water, though other wells were drilled and luxury tourist lodges were built in the territory.

The government has argued that the presence of Bushmen in the reserve is not compatible with preserving wildlife. Botswana's government also approved a $3 billion diamond mine at one of the Bushmen communities, leading critics like Survival International to speculate the government wanted to clear the Bushmen out to expand mining.

Police spokesman Mbulawa said three suspects were arrested in the Bushmen settlement of Metsiamanong earlier this month after being found in possession of game meat, and that poaching charges would be filed. But he said the government was still issuing special hunting licenses to Bushmen in the reserve.

Survival International accuses the government of refusing to issue the special hunting permits, and said five, not three, people in Metsiamanong had been arrested for possessing game meat.

(This version corrects to Central Kalahari Game Reserve on all references.)