UK introduces visas for Malawians
The Southern African nation lost the privilege of being on the visa preferential countries after reporting continued abuse of UK immigration laws by Malawian passport holders. The development, which is likely to restrict the movement of Malawians between the two countries, was announced by the British High Commission in a statement issued in Lilongwe. The new requirement took effect this week. “This means that all holders of Malawian passports wishing to travel to the UK for any purpose must apply to the British High Commission for an entry clearance (visa) before travelling,” said the statement. Malawi was one of the few countries that the British government accorded preferential visa treatment whereby a Malawian passport holder could stay in Britain for a maximum of six months without a visa. “While we fully understand that these changes may cause some travellers inconvenience, it is a necessary requirement given the long-standing and continued abuse of UK immigration control by some holders of Malawian passports,” said the statement. The British High Commission said it was committed to providing a fair and efficient visa service, expressing optimism that the new system would not deter genuine visitors from travelling to the UK. Malawi has not yet officially responded to the British decision. Meanwhile, the United States has completed a three-week training programme for nearly 1 000 Malawian soldiers in Salima. The US conducted the programme through its Department of State African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (Acota). Nine-hundred-and-fifty Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers drawn from all units countrywide were involved in the programme. The US government said the programme was the largest military training exercise it had ever conducted in Malawi. Tyler Sparks, the political and military officer at the US Embassy in Malawi, said the exercise represented an investment of nearly US$450 000 in training for Malawi’s armed forces. “In addition, we will also provide a trainee support package for the MDF in the near future which will consist of essential non-lethal items such as uniforms, boots and canteens,” he told The Chronicle in Lilongwe. “I am very pleased at the level of co-operation between our governments that this training represents, and I am convinced that it will lead to an even greater regional stature for Malawi as it increases its share of peacekeeping responsibilities,” added Sparks. MDF commanding officer of this special contingency of the Acota Battalion Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Nundwe said during a familiarisation exercise for the media and Members of Parliament who sit on the Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee, that some of the soldiers would be deployed to peacekeeping missions soon. During the tour, Acota lead analyst Paul Thomas, who was heading a team of 20 US trainers, acknowledged the professionalism of Malawian soldiers displayed during the training which he described as beyond their initial expectations. He said the training was designed to tone down the usual training referred to as Chapter 6, which is for combating and offensive and defensive tactics, to one referred in military language as Chapter 7, which is the concept of peacekeeping. The training concentrated on how to occupy defensive positions, handling and manning ambush, reconnaissance, as well as manning checkpoints. Sparks said the US government was pleased to support the MDF in its pursuit of continuing training for its soldiers. “Malawi is increasing its participation in international peace-keeping missions, such as the current mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is commendable. With this increased involvement abroad, the Malawi Defence Forces need soldiers with solid skills in all aspects of peacekeeping duties,” he explained. “It is my hope that the African Contingency programme will help MDF prepare for even greater involvement in international peacekeeping,” he added. He said in 2006 the programme would cost US$30 million throughout Africa on training and non-lethal equipment. The Acota programme, which is managed by the US’s Africa Bureau to enhance the capacity of African partner nations to effectively participate in multinational peace support operations (PSO), has so far trained over 26 000 peacekeepers from 13 countries on the continent. Since its inception in 1997, Acota and its predecessor programme, the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), have provided field training for African peacekeepers plus command and staff training and exercises for battalion, brigade, and multinational force headquarters personnel. A statement from the US Embassy says the Acota programme provides limited equipment packages to enhance indigenous training capacity and equip trainees. Expanded equipping activities are available under Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) funding. “Acota seeks to complement and support EU (European Union), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), French, British, Belgian, Portuguese and other allied peacekeeping training efforts, welcoming their participation for training events,” reads the statement in part. Acota partners Benin, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia have sent contingents to varied missions such as Sudan, Sierra Leone, Cote d’voire, Liberia, Burundi, Kosovo, Beirut and the Democratic Republic of Congo.