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Buffalo stampede in treason trial
February 18, 2005
Buffalo stampede in treason trial

A HERD of stampeding buffaloes made a cameo appearance in the Caprivi high treason trial in the High Court at Grootfontein yesterday.

As if the hardships of disease, subterfuge and living in the wild under leaders that threatened them with death were not enough for the prospective rebel soldiers in a separatist movement in the Caprivi some six years ago, they also had to deal with a herd of buffalo that stormed through one of their secret training camps while fleeing from lions.

This was revealed in the testimony of the prosecution's fifth witness.

The witness's identity may not be reported in the media, in terms of an order that Judge Elton Hoff issued in October at the request of the State because the witness feared for his safety.

Just like the three previous State witnesses, this witness also had to be warned by Judge Hoff that he may be required to give answers that could incriminate him on all 278 charges against the 120 men on trial.

He was also told that he would not be prosecuted on those charges if the court was satisfied that he had answered all questions frankly and honestly.

In short, this witness, too, is a possible accomplice of the 120 accused men.

Unlike the previous three, he became the first witness to tell the court about events involving a certain Victor Falali.

It was Falali's violent death in the last days of October 1998 that led to the first public revelations that a secessionist movement had been gathering recruits at training bases in the region to prepare to launch an armed insurrection against the Namibian government.

The witness told the court that his uncle had informed him of an organisation called the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA) in September 1998.

He joined that organisation, which wanted to rebel against the Namibian government because the government was not bringing development to the Caprivi Region.

He thought membership would eventually help him to get a job, the witness related.

He was 18 years old at the time.

Like the two previous witnesses, he also told the court that he had been at a CLA training camp in the Sachona area in Caprivi during October 1998.

The leader at the camp was John Samboma - one of the 120 men in the dock before Judge Hoff.

The witness duly pointed out Samboma in court on Wednesday afternoon.

He testified that the people gathered at Sachona were given firearms training, including training in the use of mortars, until they left the camp about two weeks later.

Samboma had explained that they had to move because their presence in the Sachona area might be reported to the authorities, he said.

Their next camp was set up at Lyiubu-Lyiubu in the Linyanti area, where Mafwe Chief Boniface Mamili guided them to the place where they set up camp, according to the witness.

By then, the witness had been ill with diarrhoea for days, and wanted to return to his home village, he testified.

He and a friend with the same plan were, however, hauled before a committee of camp leaders.

One of the leaders, Francis Mushandikwe, stated that it would be better to throw them in a ditch or to just shoot them, the witness claimed.

Faced with this reaction, they remained at Lyiubu-Lyiubu until, on October 26 1998, a herd of buffalo stormed through their camp, sending the trainees running for cover.

By the time Samboma held a roll call to see if anyone was missing or injured, it was realised that three young men had escaped from the camp, the witness said.

The next morning he saw four of the camp's men, carrying an AK47 rifle and RPG7 rocket launcher, returning to the camp.

The trainees were called together afterwards and informed that Lyiubu-Lyiubu was no longer safe either, because the men who had escaped might have reported their presence to the authorities.

He said he also heard from one of the four that there had been an exchange of gunfire at a hut in the Linyanti area where the escapees were.

Two of the escapees were called Victor Falali and the other was Muyunda Mwikisa.

What the witness did not tell the court was that Falali had been shot dead, allegedly by CLA members who had been sent from Lyiubu-Lyiubu to hunt down the escapees.

That incident is the subject of one of the nine murder charges faced by the 120.

The next morning, Samboma told the people at the camp that they had a choice of fleeing either to Botswana or to Zambia, the witness continued.

Their choice was Botswana, into which they crossed with various arms - such as 81 mm, 60 mm and 40 mm mortars, RPG7s, AK-47 and G3 rifles - in their possession.

The existence of a separatist armed force active in the Caprivi was about to become public knowledge.

The witness is set to continue giving evidence today.


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