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Botswana Bushmen to Make Second Attempt to Return to Ancestral Land

A group of San, or Bushmen, from Botswana's Kalahari Desert say they plan to return to their ancestral home after winning a lengthy court battle against their eviction. The announcement follows the refusal two weeks ago by authorities to allow 24 members of the group to return despite the court ruling. Correspondent Scott Bobb has more from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.

Leaders of a San group in Botswana plan to return Friday to their ancestral lands saying they hope an earlier refusal by the authorities to allow them to do so was due to a mistake.

The group also known as Bushmen are traditional hunters and gatherers who traditionally lived in the central part of the Kalahari Desert.

Several thousand of them were evicted in 2002 to make way for a wildlife sanctuary. But a Botswana high court last month ruled that their removal was unconstitutional after 244 of their leaders protested in a lawsuit.

Fiona Watson, a coordinator with Survival International, which supports the Bushmen's case, says that when the first group tried to return, authorities at the entrance of the reserve said only the people whose names appeared on the court ruling could enter.

"That meant that in effect families have been separated because obviously each applicant on the [court] list has their family, their spouse and their children," she said. "And the Bushmen said we want to go in with our families. How can it be that the ruling can only apply to certain people and not whole families?"

She says since the court ruled the Bushmen have a constitutional right to live on their land, the ruling should apply to all members of the group.

Leaders of the group say the government has not responded to their plea.

The Botswana government in 1997 began relocating Bushmen from the central Kalahari saying it was setting the land aside as a protected are for wildlife and the development of tourism. Bushmen leaders say the government dismantled their water well and moved them to resettlement camps outside the reserve.

Activists say conditions in the camps are deplorable and the Bushmen are suffering serious effects from unemployment, alcoholism and the AIDS virus.

"This court ruling was a very far-reaching, very good court ruling, not only for the Bushmen but for Botswana as a whole, because it showed that the judiciary is independent and it also showed that the government was mistaken and wrong to act how it did," Fiona Watson added.

She says she hopes the current standoff is resolved and the Bushmen are allowed to return to their land, which is what they want to do.