'Unprovoked police attack' on war vets


Windhoek - A Namibian human rights group late on Monday condemned what it described as an "unprovoked" police crackdown on a war veterans demonstration in the capital Windhoek in which at least 14 people were reportedly injured.

Police used baton charges and teargas to disperse a group of about 100 former freedom fighters demonstrating on Monday evening outside the Ministry for Veteran Affairs in Windhoek for compensation for their services in the freedom struggle, witnesses said.

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), in a statement, condemned the "unprovoked police action" as "a blatant and pointless violation of the constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties" and demanded to know who gave orders for police to use force on the protesters.

Police and the ministry have yet to comment on the incident.

The demonstrators were part of a group of about 300 former combatants of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) that marched on the Veteran Affairs ministry in central Windhoek on Monday to demand compensation for their role in securing freedom from apartheid rule in 1990.

PLAN was the armed wing of the former freedom movement that is now the country's ruling party SWAPO.

The group handed a petition with their demands to Veterans Affairs Minister Ngarikutuke Tjiriange.

As darkness fell and about 100 protesters vowed to camp in front of the ministry until their demands had been met, members of the Special Field Force police moved in to disperse them with teargas and batons.

Witnesses said racial tensions were evident with demonstrators taunting white police officers with slogans such as "Down with the police" and "Down with the boers."

The former combatants are demanding a cash sum of 32 000 Namibia dollars (about R32 600) for each year spent in exile during the freedom struggle or a lump sum of 500 000 Namibia dollars for each veteran.

This would be in accordance with demobilisation payments the veterans say were promised to them during the 1989 repatriation process overseen by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The government was aware of the sacrifices the former combatants had made towards liberation but his ministry does not have "any money to give to anyone", Tjiriange said on Monday.

Since 1995 the former fighters have been demanding that government recognise their contribution towards independence with compensation.

In 1998 nearly 9 000 were integrated into the army, the police and the civil service. Others receive a pension of 500 Namibia dollars a month.

Following repeated calls and demonstrations to highlight their plight, President Hifikepunye Pohamba in October last year established the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs to keep records on former fighters, including state payments made so far and possible support for those who have not benefited from any scheme. - Sapa-dpa


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