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153 Former SWAPO Captives Return to Namibia

July 05, 1989|From Times Wire Services

WINDHOEK, Namibia — A group of 153 men, women and children held captive by the Namibian guerrilla organization SWAPO flew to Windhoek on Tuesday under the terms of an independence plan for the South African-run territory.

They said they were among about 2,000 dissidents imprisoned and tortured by the South-West Africa People's Organization during its guerrilla war to gain independence for Namibia.

SWAPO leaders say they held only 201 dissidents and have released them all.

Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of SWAPO members accused of spying for South Africa were killed at SWAPO prison camps in Angola, the freed detainees said.

Abuses Acknowledged

Guerrilla leaders have acknowledged that abuses occurred at its prison camps. The leaders also said that those detained at the camps had betrayed the nationalist cause by acting as spies for South Africa. SWAPO fought a 23-year guerrilla campaign against South Africa for the independence of Namibia.

The former detainees returned home with tales of people being beaten to death and held in underground pits.

"I was beaten every day" for 10 years, said Henry Boonzaier, a trade union official in Namibia before he left to join the guerrilla army.

"I know many people were beaten to death," he said. When asked how many, Boonzaier replied, "Hundreds."

Kept in Underground Pits

Boonzaier and others said they often were kept in underground pits, were seldom allowed to see sunlight and were fed only rice and beans for months.

Another returned detainee, Magdalena Goagoses, 26, said she was beaten in the months before she delivered her son, Hans. She would not answer questions about her baby's father, but it was clear she become pregnant while she was a prisoner.

Hundreds of people carrying banners, one of which read "SWAPO, Where Is My Father?" were at Windhoek airport to greet the U.N. aircraft ferrying the former detainees.

The returnees were not allowed to greet waiting family members at the airport or speak to reporters until they got to Oseri Kari Camp, a recently abandoned South African military base 60 miles north of Windhoek that is being used by the United Nations.

Under the terms of U.N. Resolution 453, SWAPO and Namibian authorities are due to free all political detainees. Several freed prisoners estimated that SWAPO still holds more than 2,000 detainees.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says it accepts the SWAPO figures, although a committee of relatives in Namibia has given U.N. officers the names of more than 300 missing SWAPO members.

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