. . . alleges govt cover up of former army chief’s death
THE family of slain former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao has appealed to Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders to compel the government to investigate his killing which they say has been “stalled” by the police and army to protect the alleged perpetrators.
The Mahaos have also spoken out against the “unjust” Amnesty Bill, 2016 saying it was a “cynical attempt by the government to protect and reward perpetrators of heinous crimes”.
The appeal was read out by the former army chief’s brother, Professor Nqosa Mahao, during a press conference held in Maseru this week.
It is addressed to SADC Double Troika chairperson Tanzania President John Magufuli, SADC chairperson King Mswati III of Swaziland, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi, Ian Khama (Botswana), Jacob Zuma (South Africa), outgoing African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, SADC facilitator to Lesotho Cyril Ramaphosa and SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax.
It was also relayed to United States envoy to Lesotho Matthew Harrington, European Union Ambassador to Lesotho Dr Michael Doyle and the SADC Oversight Committee.
However, conspicuous by its absence on the list of addressees was the government. Prof Mahao said they did not bother to send the appeal to the government because their never responded to previous correspondence from the family.
“We didn’t write to the government of Lesotho because it never responds to us even though they are a part of SADC.”
He said they were “more convinced than ever” that the government had no intention “whatsoever” of conducting the investigation.
The former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander was shot dead just outside Maseru, allegedly while resisting arrest on suspicion he was behind a foiled mutiny plot involving several LDF members who are now appearing before a Court Martial.
Following the shooting, the government requested SADC to help probe the tragedy, resulting in a Commission of Inquiry led by Botswana judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi.
After the probe, the Commission made several recommendations aimed at finding lasting harmony in the Kingdom.
Among the recommendations was the removal of army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli to restore Basotho’s trust in the LDF, criminal investigations into the death of Lt-Gen Mahao leading to prosecution, constitutional reforms, the suspension of LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into the allegations proceeded in line with international best practice, as well as amnesty for the 23 soldiers facing mutiny charges before the Court Martial.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili announced last June that an investigation into the killing was underway. However, the Mahao family accused the government of deliberately stalling the probe.
“We are more than ever convinced that the Government of Lesotho has no intention whatsoever to conduct the investigations,” said Prof Mahao.
He said despite the SADC Double Troika endorsing the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation for criminal investigations into the killing to be pursued “vigorously” and expeditiously, the government was dragging its feet.
He said the government’s unwillingness to bring his brother’s killers to book was made “amply clear” in the information they gave to the Oversight Committee during its visit to Lesotho on 17-25 November 2016.
“According to the report the Minister of Police, Mr Phallang Monare, informed the Oversight Committee that ‘The investigations on the death of Brig. General Mahao are still underway. The Police have met with the LDF to develop a common approach to the investigations. The ballistic tests are still pending as the police have not got access to firearms that were used in the death of Brig. General Mahao’ (p. 6).”
He said Police Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa had informed the Oversight Committee that while most of the evidence was available, the weapons had not been delivered to the police because the laboratory, which had been burnt down, had not yet been repaired.
The family queried the logic of the decision since the police submitted some firearms related to other criminal investigations for ballistic tests to the South African Police Service (SAPS.
“The decision by LMPS to send for ballistic tests weapons involved in other investigations to SAPS, but those which are the subject international interests, is both unfathomable and irrational.”
Prof Mahao also cited the instance when the SADC Double Troika-commissioned pathologists failed to conduct an autopsy on Lt-Gen Mahao.
“As part of constructing a complete pathologist report, a team of ballistics experts led by Major Mangena of the South African Police Services in Pretoria was simultaneously dispatched to Lesotho to conduct ballistic investigations.
“In the event, Major Mangena and his team were denied access to the vehicle that transported the deceased from the scene of the crime as well as the weapons used in the killing. Not only were they denied this vital material evidence, but they — – were hurried out of Lesotho by the country’s authorities.”
Added Prof Mahao: “In the opinion of the family this stalling backed by contrived alibis constitute clear evidence of the collusion between the government, the LMPS and the LDF in unison to frustrate investigations and to defy SADC and the rest of the international community in a matter so central to peace, stability, rule of law and course justice in Lesotho.”
He also touched on the contentious Amnesty Bill, 2016 which was presented in the National Assembly on 22 November. If passed into law, the bill would grant members of the security sector a blanket amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015.
The amnesty would extend to members of the LDF whom the SADC Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability had recommended should face prosecution.
Prof Mahao referred again to the Oversight Committee report in which Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi was quoted saying: “. . .the Ministry is aware that army personnel were involved in the death of Brig. General Mahao, (but) they are also covered by the proposed amnesty (p.9).”
The minister’s remarks, Prof Mahao said, made clear “a direct nexus between the deliberate stalling of investigations and the obnoxious Amnesty Bill”.
He said the Mahao family and other families of citizens killed by the LDF as well as soldiers facing mutiny charges had “made it clear that they reject the unjust Amnesty Bill in toto”.
“The Bill is a hardly veiled and cynical attempt by the government to protect and reward perpetrators of heinous crimes. The Bill is an affront to the rule of law and a license for impunity. It is yet again the clearest statement by the government that it is not intent on holding rogue elements in the LDF to account and amply captures the contempt with which it holds the international community.”
While acknowledging Lt-Gen’s removal from the helm of the LDF as a “step in the right direction”, the Mahao family protested the failure by the government to “suspend other rogue elements” in the LDF mentioned by name in Justice Phumaphi’s report.
Prof Mahao also took issue with the recent promotions of LDF members linked with his brother’s killing.
“This multiple promotions of crime suspects is yet the clearest indication that the government of Lesotho seeks to ensure that the LDF apparatus is firmly in the control of a criminal element.
“It is also apparent that many of the crime suspects have been promoted into the positions of officers still languishing in detention courtesy of LDF defiance of court orders and SADC directives that those wrongfully detained soldiers be freed. This backhand slight occurs while SADC has given a clear direction to the Lesotho government to suspend from duty all soldiers implicated in crimes and to ensure that they answer for their offenses in the courts of law.”
The family thus appealed to SADC leaders to compel Maseru to implement its commitments with regards to the investigation.
“Against this unambiguous determination by the government of Lesotho to frustrate the course of justice, we appeal to Your Excellencies to help restore our faith as the family most affected by this long drawn out saga of injustice and the entire peace-loving Basotho to prevail on it to do what is right.
“A clearest signal to the Lesotho government that it has to honour its constitutional obligations and commitments to the international community is both necessary, urgent and unavoidable.”
Efforts to contact government spokesperson and Communications Minister Serialong Qoo were fruitless yesterday as his phone rang unanswered.
For her part, deputy police spokesperson Senior Inspector Lerato Motseki said: “We are not yet ready to comment on that issue as you can understand that the case is still being investigated. Talking about the whereabouts of exhibits in this matter could jeopardize the investigations.”