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Botswana denies state media claims

Dumisani Muleya

BOTSWANA yesterday dismissed government press reports that American and British officials would meet next week on its soil to discuss “regime change” in Zimbabwe.

NT face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Mmamosadinyane Molefe, Botswana High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, said her government had no idea of the suggested meeting between United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

“We have no such information,” Molefe said. “What we know is that Kansteiner is already in Botswana to officiate at the opening of the Southern African Global Competitiveness Hub.”

Reflecting a growing siege mentality in official circles, the government-controlled Herald has been claiming that Kansteiner and Straw were expected to meet in Botswana next week to discuss Zimbabwe. It has also claimed the US has an airbase in that country.

US embassy spokesman Bruce Wharton said he knew nothing about the reported meeting.

“I simply don’t know that,” he said. “What I know is that Kansteiner is in Botswana opening a regional trade information centre.”

Straw is expected to visit South Africa on Monday for bilateral talks with government officials. British officials said on Wednesday there was no proposal for Straw to visit Botswana.

The Herald said the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would send a delegation to the purported Botswana meeting.

But MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said this claim was simply unfounded.

“Of course the Herald, as usual, is telling a blatant lie,” he said. “We are not sending a delegation to meet Kansteiner and Straw. We have not been invited and we actually don’t need to meet them.”

In an apparent bid to raise fears of a US military threat to Zimbabwe, the Herald further claimed the Americans have an airbase in Botswana. It was presumably referring to the Thebe Phatshwa Airbase in Maparangwana district outside Gaborone.

However, Molefe said it was false to claim the airbase was a US facility.

“That airbase is owned by the Botswana government,” she said. “It was built by French and South African companies, but it was totally funded by our government and is therefore owned by Botswana.”

The supposed meeting between Kansteiner and Straw is unlikely to happen as Kansteiner is expected to return to the US over the weekend. Straw will visit South Africa only next week, after Kansteiner has left.

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