Release of SA men a 'cautionary tale'

2010-12-21 12:05

Johannesburg - The release of two South African media workers who were detained in Somaliland has been described by a specialist on the region Iqbal Jhazbhay as a "cautionary tale".

The two SA journalists were detained in Somaliland after authorities found military equipment on their plane.

According to Jhazbhay, who helped the South African authorities facilitate contacts, the two were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people without knowing it”.

"It is a serious lesson for people not to board a plane when you don't know what is on there," said Jhazbhay, a professor in the Religious Studies and Arabic Studies department of Unisa and author of "Somaliland: An African Struggle for Nationhood and International Recognition".

He said that in addition, the pilot knew little of the regional dynamics.

"He didn't know the political dynamics, and didn't know that Somaliland doesn't have healthy relations with neighbouring Puntland.

"I was totally amazed by the pilot - he thought he had got his clearance for Somalia," he said, explaining that the situations in the regions of Somaliland, Puntland and southern Somalia were very different. The area of Somaliland had held a democratic election in June and was peaceful and stable, he said. Puntland was more of a "federal state" and in southern Somalia there was broad uncertainty and "not much of a government".

Consular assistance

He explained that the two, who are according to the Cape Times a cameraman and a sound man, had been contracted by a company called Moonlighting Films to work in neighbouring Puntland.

The SA international relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela  confirmed on Tuesday that the two had been released.

"The department has been aware of this matter regarding these two South Africans. We have been providing consular assistance to them and they have now been released," he said.

Christopher Everson and Anton van der Merwe were detained after the plane they were travelling in landed in Somaliland on December 10 while they were on their way to do film work in neighbouring Puntland.

A producer already in Puntland had made their travel arrangements. They were to travel on a Russian Antanov going there for security company Saracen International, which is believed to be contracted to protect oil drilling interests in Puntland.

Jhazbhay acknowledged that there was a theory that Saracen was doing military training, but he felt that it was more plausible that their job was to protect the drilling.

Further investigation

After boarding in Uganda and heading for region, the pilot had intended to refuel in Ethiopia's Addis Ababa.

But, apparently because the process is slow at that airport, he decided to press on to Somaliland and refuel there.

Jhazbhay said that when the pilot stated that his destination was Puntland, which he describes as similar to a federal state, the authorities pricked up their ears and searched the plane, finding 583kg of military style uniforms from Cape Town.

There is a UN embargo on taking military equipment to Somalia and this includes military uniforms, so all eight were detained for further investigation.

After verification, the Somaliland authorities decided to release the two South Africans but the last word was that the six Russians would face charges of importing non-lethal military contraband.

He said the two were lucky they were detained in Somaliland.

Because of the relative stability there the process was quick.

"If it had been elsewhere it would have taken much longer."