Namibia: Caprivi treason trial goes on

Grootfontein - The Caprivi high treason case in the High Court at Grootfontein returned to an increasingly familiar state of being stalled and in crisis yesterday.

The immediate future of the trial was once again in the balance by the time that Judge Elton Hoff adjourned the court until this morning.

That was after defence lawyers representing 15 of the 120 accused withdrew from representing those suspects, and after a representative of the 15 had read out a statement that might be regarded as an admission of the fifteen's secessionist sympathies.

Judge Hoff is expected to give a ruling today that would indicate whether the trial will proceed while 15 of the 120 accused are no longer legally represented and may possibly refuse to further attend the proceedings.

A threat to that effect was made by one of the 15, Martin Tubaundule, when he was allowed to address the Judge yesterday.

He was given a chance to speak directly to the court when Judge Hoff tried to establish the nature of a new challenge to the court's jurisdiction that the 15 wanted their lawyers to launch.

It was this instruction, which none of the defence counsel wanted to carry out, that eventually prompted lawyers Hennie Krueger, Jorge Neves, Christopher Dube, Jonathan Samukange and Greyson Nyoni to end their representation of some of their clients yesterday.

The five lawyers will remain in the trial, as they are still representing other clients.

With none of the defence lawyers willing to reveal the basis of the jurisdiction challenge to the court, Tubaundule was given an opportunity to speak.

He used the opportunity to give the court a first-hand indication of what sort of sentiments about the status of the Caprivi Region may be found in the ranks of the 120 men in the dock.

Tubaundule said he was speaking on behalf of the group of 15 who wanted to mount another challenge to the court's jurisdiction over them.

Also in the group are prominent alleged members of a secessionist movement that is claimed to have been active in the Caprivi Region, especially between 1998 and late 1999, such as alleged Caprivi Liberation Army commander John Samboma and co-suspects Aggrey Makendano, Thaddeus Ndala and Charles Samboma.

Tubaundule started off by telling the Judge that "the Caprivi 15" were in court to inform him that they were not in a position to be tried by any court in Namibia.

"We are Caprivians and not Namibians," he stated as he told the court of the reasons for the group's stance.

For the most part, if not exclusively, these reasons turned out to be politically based.

"Our tradition, our culture have nothing in common with Namibia and its people," he stated as one of the reasons.

"No one in Namibia can charge us with high treason or sedition, apart from Botswana and Zambia authorities. Therefore to us those charges are nothing else but a mockery and an insult to our parents, to our forefathers and to our fellow countrymen and women in Caprivi, as well as those who are currently in Botswana, who are in Denmark, USA and wherever on the globe," Tubaundule stated.

He then went on to attack the Namibian Government's authority in the Caprivi Region.

"We strongly believe that the Swapo government is forcibly governing Caprivi illegally, and that its occupation is against the will of the Caprivian people. Therefore there is no way we, the Caprivi 15, are going to continue to recognise this court to try us, neither the government of Namibia to govern us by force, using guns, threats and intimidation," he declared.

It is through history, tradition and culture that the Caprivi Region was separated from "the Namibian nation", Tubaundule continued.

He added that the Namibian government was not established so that the Caprivi Region "must be governed and occupied by force and by people who are not suited to tie our shoes".

But while they dismiss Government's powers in the Caprivi Region on the one hand, they still insist on being provided with legal aid by the same government on the other hand, it also emerged from Tubaundule's address.

He told the Judge that until the Director of Legal Aid had provided the group with a lawyer who would represent them in bringing a legal challenge to the court's jurisdiction, they would no longer be appearing in the court as from today.

The Director's stance was conveyed to the court yesterday afternoon, when Legal Aid counsel Patience Daringo told Judge Hoff that the Legal Aid Directorate had complied with a Supreme Court order to provide the accused with adequate legal representation, that the situation that the 15 now find themselves in was of their own making, and that the Directorate could not give any undertaking with regard to the new jurisdiction application.

In short, the 15 are on their own as far as the Legal Aid Directorate is concerned.

Whether Judge Hoff would agree, may be indicated today.

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Source: The Namibian, Werner Menges

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