UN urges Botswana talks with Kalahari Bushmen
Mon Aug 8, 2005 7:03 PM GMT
By Alistair Thomson
PRETORIA (Reuters) - A United Nations official called on Monday for talks between Botswana's government and San Bushmen moved off their Kalahari lands, but took a swipe at a campaign by a UK pressure group against diamond giant De Beers.
Diamond mining Botswana has relocated hundreds of San Bushmen from their traditional hunting grounds in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve saying they must leave the reserve to benefit from education, water and health services.
But UK-based Survival International says the relocations are to free up land for diamond mining and has led a vocal campaign against De Beers, picketing its store openings and accusing police of torturing evicted San Bushmen, who have lived as hunter-gatherers in southern Africa for thousands of years.
"I feel personally that it is important to push negotiations in the interests of the San people and of all the people of Botswana," Rodolfo Stavenhagen, U.N. rapporteur for indigenous peoples, told reporters during a visit to neighbouring South Africa.
"I hear from some of my sources that there are people certainly in government who are ready to engage," he said.
"I would hope that such negotiations could take place as soon as possible and that the wishes of the San not to be displaced from the Central Kalahari (be respected)," he said.
The Botswana government says those who left the reserve did so voluntarily, and officials have denied reports of torture.
Stavenhagen said he had received complaints regarding the treatment of the San Bushmen, and hoped to visit Botswana.
"I think the San people in Botswana have a legitimate case in terms of not being evicted from their homeland ... which is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve," he said, although he made clear he had not yet had direct contact with the Botswana government and was not judging the merits of the case.
But Stavenhagen seemed to have little time for non-governmental organisation (NGO) Survival International's campaign against De Beers, which has sparked an increasingly acrimonious war of words.
"In a way it has become a media event and that is very unfortunate," Stagenhagen said. "The interests of the San people are not best served by a public debate between an NGO based in London an international mining company."
Survival International's campaign has touched a raw nerve in Botswana, a largely desert country of just 1.7 million people whose De Beers mines make it the world's top diamond producer by value, accounting for nearly 80 percent of exports, a third of gross domestic product and nearly half government income.
The government and De Beers, 45 percent owned by Anglo American, deny any link between the relocations and diamonds, saying even if there were viable deposits they would only need to fence off part of the reserve to mine them.
Court hearings into the evictions began last year but have been repeatedly adjourned due to legal delays and a lack of funds on the part of the San Bushmen to pay their legal team. The next session of the hearings is due to begin on Wednesday.
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