Namibia indigenous groups sue Germany over 'genocide'

New York (AFP) - Representatives of two indigenous groups have filed a class-action suit in New York against Germany seeking reparations for the genocide of their peoples by German colonial rulers over a century ago in what is now Namibia.

The suit filed by the Ovaherero and Nama people on Thursday also demands that their representatives be included in negotiations between Germany and Namibia on the issue.

The two countries have been in talks about a joint declaration on the 1904-05 massacres.

While Germany has acknowledged a genocide occurred, it has repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations, saying that its development aid worth hundreds of millions of euros since Namibia's independence from South Africa in 1990 was "for the benefit of all Namibians".

The plaintiffs said they were bringing the class action suit "on behalf of all Ovaherero and Nama worldwide, seeking reparations and compensation for the genocide" suffered at the hands of the German colonial authorities.

They said they were also seeking a declaration of their right "to be included in any negotiation between Germany and Namibia" and that no settlements can be reached unless they are among the signatories.

In Berlin, foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said his office had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on what it entailed.

But he pointed to the negotiations launched around two years ago with Windhoek over the joint declaration, which he said were aimed at plotting "a common path for the future" on the issue.

"The talks with the Namibian side are going well in our view. The talks are not easy because the topic is a difficult one but they are being held in a spirit of trust and mutual understanding," said the spokesman.

The dispute harkens back to a period in the late 19th and early 20th century when South West Africa, now known as Namibia, was a German colony.

The suit alleges that from 1885 to 1903 about a quarter of Ovaherero and Nama lands -- thousands of square miles -- was taken without compensation by German settlers with the explicit consent of German colonial authorities.

It also claims that those authorities turned a blind eye to rapes by colonists of Ovaherero and Nama women and girls, and the use of forced labor.

Tensions boiled over in early 1904 when the Ovaherero rose up, followed by the Nama, in an insurrection crushed by German imperial troops.

The suit alleges that as many 100,000 Ovaherero and Nama people died in a campaign of annihilation led by German General Lothar von Trotha.

The plaintiffs include Vekuii Rukoro, identified as the paramount chief of the Ovaherero people, David Frederick, chief and chairman of the Nama Traditional Authorities Association, and the non-profit Association of the Ovaherero Genocide in the USA, Inc.