THE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has released the seven remaining detained soldiers of the 23 facing mutiny charges and placed them on “open arrest, amid intensifying pressure from development partners for an amnesty.
LDF spokesperson, Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi, yesterday told the Lesotho Times the seven soldiers were released from Maseru Maximum Security Prison after their commanding officer “found it fit” for them to be placed under open arrest “considering the prevailing conditions” without elaborating.
The released LDF members, Brigadier Motoa, Colonel Stemmere, Colonel Kolisang, Sergeant Mokhobo, Sergeant Semakale, Corporal Mokhoro and Lance Corporal Molefi, are among the 23 soldiers who were arrested between May and June 2015 for allegedly plotting to violently remove the LDF command.
The 23 accused mutineers are expected to appear before a court martial on Tuesday next week for their trial even though they are awaiting a decision of the Court Martial Appeal Court on their challenge of the legality of their prosecution.
The LDF has claimed the alleged mutiny plot was masterminded by former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao who was shot dead by his colleagues who had come to arrest him for the suspected mutiny in Mokema on 25 June 2015.
However, a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into the incidents surrounding the former army chief’s killing concluded that the LDF’s case against the alleged mutineers was “highly suspect” and recommended that they be granted amnesty by the government.
This was echoed by Lesotho’s development partners including the United States and European Union, which called on Maseru to heed the recommendation to grant amnesty to the accused mutineers.
The Americans had stipulated the release of the detained soldiers as one of the benchmarks for renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) free trade facility and a developmental aid grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
However, the charges have not been dropped and in addition, there is an Amnesty Bill 2016 currently before the National Assembly that proposes, among other things, that the mutiny suspects be granted amnesty and be retired from the LDF.
The Americans have criticized the draft law, saying it was too broad. In its current form, the Amnesty Bill, 2016 would grant members of the security sector a blanket amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015. It would also extend the amnesty to members of the LDF whom the SADC Commission of Inquiry had recommended should face prosecution.
Brig Ntoi said the seven LDF soldiers were under open arrest, which is a form of bail in the military.
“The LDF Public Affairs department confirms that seven officers and soldiers who were detained in our detention facility were released,” he said.
“They have been released under the same terms as the previous ones.”
Brig Ntoi was, however, not specific about the conditions imposed on the released officers, saying he had not yet seen the document detailing their release conditions.
“Their release came after their commanding officer found it fit (for them) to be placed under open arrest considering the prevailing conditions presently,” he said.
“Their commanding officer has realized that the conditions that prevailed at the time when they were detained have changed as compared to the present time.
“There was a plan to kill other army officers when they were detained but their commanding officer has now realized change in their behaviour.”
Brig Ntoi added: “But in general, they are expected to abide by all laws governing the Lesotho Defence Force.
“The release of these seven members of the LDF means there are no detainees in our detention facility now. All mutiny suspects are now on open arrest.”
He also said the accused mutineers were expected to report to the office of the Military Police at times stipulated on their release document, which Brig Ntoi said he had not yet seen.