Botswana denies hosting Zimbabwe opposition training camps

Johannesburg – Botswana's government on Monday rejected allegations by Zimbabwe that it had conspired in an alleged plot by Zimbabwe's opposition to overthrow President Robert Mugabe's regime.

Zimbabwe’s state-controlled daily Herald newspaper earlier quoted Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa as accusing the government of President Ian Khama of availing "its territory, material and logistical support" to Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) "for the recruitment and military training of youths for the eventual destabilisation of the country with a view to effecting illegal regime change."

"The Botswana government has said the allegations are false," foreign affairs spokesman Clifford Maribe told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa. "Botswana has made its position very clear that it will never let its territory be used to launch attacks."

Zimbabwe’s accusations mark an escalation in the regime’s hostility towards Botswana, whose president has been vocal in his criticism of Mugabe, boycotting two summits of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) over Mugabe’s presence as head of state.

Botswana does not recognize Mugabe’s victory in a violent presidential election run-off in June. Khama has called for new, internationally-supervised elections, while his foreign minister Phando Skelemani has called on African countries to shut their borders with Zimbabwe to force Mugabe from office.

Chinamasa claimed the regime had "compelling evidence" that Botswana, a country usually hailed for its good governance, "has rendered itself a surrogate of Western imperial powers … and that it has decided to be a destabilizing factor in the region."

He gave no details of the "evidence," but said the matter was now in the hands of the politics and defence organ of SADC, known as the "troika."

Zimbabwe already took the matter to SADC in early November.

Botswana immediately denied the allegations and invited SADC to send investigators to establish the whereabouts of the purported MDC camps. A SADC delegation visited Botswana in the last two weeks, Maribe said, but had yet to issue a report.

The Herald, without naming sources, alleged former Zimbabwe military personnel had supplied information to Harare "after gathering sufficient information from inside."

It claimed that "the plot was to train groups of bandits who would instigate instability that would give the West a pretext to get the United Nations Security Council leeway to authorise a military invasion of Zimbabwe."

The publicizing of the allegations comes ahead of a Security Council meeting in New York this week at which Zimbabwe’s political and humanitarian crises are due to be discussed.

The meeting is likely to touch on the Mugabe regime’s new crackdown on the opposition and civil society. Over 20 MDC members and rights activists have been detained by police or suspected intelligence agents in recent weeks and subsequently disappeared.

A senior MDC official told