Army speaks on ‘coup’ claims
. . . as speculation swirls of a terror campaign
THE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has dismissed allegations it is planning to stage a coup d’état in the event that the current government loses the parliamentary elections scheduled for Saturday next week.
The assurance comes in the wake of swirling speculation the LDF was preparing to unleash terror if their “favoured political parties” were not elected in the upcoming polls.
The speculation was ignited by a request the LDF commander, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo, made to the commissioner of lands to avail 22 areas that include hills and plateaus in the country for the army.
The areas concerned are in all the country’s 10 districts and include Thabana-Ntlenyana, Thaba-Phafane, Qeme Plateau, Machache, Qoaling Plateau, Lion Rock, Pela-Tšoeu, Phatla-Khomo, Mokotjomela, Thaba-Ntšo, Nkokobe, ‘Mamalapi, Maseepho, Thamathu, Tšepeng, Baneising, Kalime, Thaba-Tšoeu, Leqooa, Qhaliseng, Mok’hopha and Thaba-Mokhele.
The Lesotho Times is in possession of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s letter of request to the commissioner of lands.
Part of the letter, dated 6 March 2017, reads: “Lesotho Defence Force is kindly requesting your good office to secure the below tabulated Hills and Plateaus, for the Ground of Tactical Importance (GTI).
“They will be used for foreseeable security threat and security purposes.
“Lesotho Defence Force is aware of the community around and also (sic) retains of the developments.”
The timing of the request, which was made soon after the passing of a parliamentary no-confidence vote on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government on 1 March 2017, has raised the eyebrows of the opposition and critics of the regime.
The no-confidence vote was sponsored by the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD) Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) cutting short the five-year tenure of the government which was formed in March 2015.
The opposition has also pointed to the fact that the request was made on 6 March 2017, the day King Letsie III dissolved parliament at the advice of Dr Mosisili to pave the way for the setting of the election date.
Basotho National Party (BNP) spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, yesterday told this publication concerns about the security situation in the country ahead of the elections “should not be taken lightly in light of the army’s machinations”.
He said it was “common knowledge” that the army preferred the outgoing seven-party governing coalition to the opposition parties.
Apart from Dr Mosisili’s Democratic Congress, the outgoing governing coalition consists of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party, Lesotho People’s Congress and Popular Front for Democracy.
The parties cobbled Lesotho’s second coalition government on 4 March 2015 after the 28 February 2015 general election had resulted in a hung parliament.
Mr Mofomobe said the LDF’s request to occupy strategic places ahead of the elections was suspicious “given their track record”.
The BNP spokesperson cited the LDF’s raid on three key Maseru police stations on the morning of 30 August 2014 as the reason for the concern.
The raid, which left one police officer dead, triggered a chain of unsavoury events that led to the collapse of the Thomas Thabane-led coalition government and intervention by the international community in an effort to avert a complete breakdown of the rule of law in Lesotho.
The LDF later described the manoeuvres as a special operation to foil a police plan to give civilians firearms for use during a LCD street protest scheduled for 1 September 2014 — a claim the police and Dr Thabane dismissed out of hand.
Dr Thabane, who had fled the country for South Africa on the eve of the raids, allegedly after being warned his life was in danger from rogue elements of the LDF, later called the attacks an attempted coup.
“On the 30th of August 2014, the army played the same tricks like this one,” Mr Mofomobe said.
“The LDF released documents justifying their raids which amounted to a coup.
“If you look at that letter (by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo), two things are mentioned. The first one relates to a threat and the second one relates to the dams.
“If what the letter says is true, you will realise that the Lesotho Highlands Water Project has been in existence for over 31 years and yet the army did not see the importance of protecting such areas.
“It is against this background that we have a strong feeling that if the outcome of the elections goes the way they don’t like, which is against the current government, they will stage a coup.
“Surely, something is brewing within the LDF,” Mr Mofomobe said.
Prominent political analyst and government critic, Professor Mafa Sejanamane, echoed the sentiment in his opinion column published on page 13 in this paper.
He notes on the column: “Could Dr Mosisili’s militia also be up to new tricks which could scupper peace in Lesotho? Could Dr Mosisili’s attempts to block the national dialogue and also to refuse to sign the pledge be related to the emerging attempts by LDF to have all high grounds designated as its operational areas part of this?
“. . . We need not say anything more rather than to suggest that there may be two reasons for the above. First, the sites may be required for purposes of intimidation of opponents of the regime. Internally there is no need to occupy high ground against an unarmed opposition. Indeed, the militia is more useful and effective around civilian areas where there is immediate access to people it wants to harm.
Added Prof Sejanamane: “Occupying high grounds could only be conceivably be against other armed people if there were to be an armed intervention after the elections. Dr Mosisili’s allies may be showing their intentions. In such situations, showing your intentions and ensuring that somebody is aware that there may be resistance should there be any intervention is a well-known strategy. Such resistance may be short-lived but it surely can be offered.”
AD spokesperson Teboho Lehloenya said while there was nothing wrong with the LDF acquiring pieces land to carry out their security duties, the timing was “worrisome”.
“I don’t see any problem with the army acquiring land they want for security purposes. Remember that they have bases all over the country,” he said.
“However, what is worrisome is the time at which they are applying for acquisition of such pieces of land.
“They are also applying to a wrong authority in the commissioner of lands because they should have applied to the land allocating authorities of the respective areas.
“I think they were not properly advised.”
Attempts to get a comment from the ABC failed as the phones of the party’s officials rang unanswered.
However, the LDF has strongly refuted the coup claims, saying they were unfounded.
The LDF’s head of Public Affairs, Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi yesterday told the Lesotho Times the security agency earmarked the places in question “many years ago”, adding that the exercise had nothing to do with next month’s polls.
“The Lesotho Defence Force has no reason to do what these people allege because our mandate is to adhere to the principles of democracy,” Brig Ntoi said.
“It is wrong to try to compare the acquisition of those places with this year’s elections because we identified those places many years ago.
“All that we are doing now is to get proper registration documents for such places.
“It is the LDF’s mandate to protect the essential places in this country, and those artificial dams fall under the essential places which we are mandated to protect. There is nothing wrong with that.”
Brig Ntoi said the acquisition of those places was purely a security matter.
However, he would not be drawn to explain the details of the request, saying “the letter was supposed to be confidential”.