THE Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, says members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who raided three Maseru police stations at the weekend were allegedly looking for dockets relating to the on-going corruption trial of Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing.
Commissioner Tšooana also told the Lesotho Times that the soldiers were looking for information about police investigations into the bombings of his Ha Abia home and those of two Moshoeshoe II families on 27 January this year.
The Commissioner—who fled to South Africa alongside fellow senior police officers soon after the army stormed Maseru Central, Police Headquarters and Ha-Mabote Police Station on Saturday morning—further said the soldiers also demanded dockets regarding investigations into the shooting of Lisebo Tang and Tšepo Jane near LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli’s Ha Leqele residence on 10 May this year.
Tang died on the scene of shooting, while her friend, Jane was injured and taken to the Makoanyane Military Hospital. Police reports suggest the vehicle in which they were sitting, was shot 123 times by soldiers guarding Lieutenant General Kamoli’s home.
Commissioner Tšooana insists the LDF’s claims that Saturday’s raid was to confiscate firearms the police were about to give to All Basotho Convention (ABC) youths, which go by the name Under The Tree Army (UTTA), were “completely untrue”.
According to the LDF, UTTA wanted to use the arms to confront protesters taking part in a Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD)-organised march, which had been scheduled for Monday this week in Maseru.
The protest was meant to put pressure on Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to lift the nine-month suspension of parliament, the ABC leader asked King Letsie III to effect on 10 June this year. Dr Thabane decided to suspend parliament at the height of his dispute with LCD leader, Deputy Prime Minister Methetjoa Metsing, who accused him of not consulting him and fellow coalition government leader, Thesele ‘Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP).
“The LDF’s claims are completely unfounded; there is no way that a national security institution such as the LMPS can support a political party with government arms. We know and respect the law and the principles which rule this institution. There is no way that the police can comprise their integrity and professionalism by giving away arms to untrained political groups,” Commissioner Tšooana said.
The “real” reason why the LDF members raided the three nerve-centres of police operations was to take away evidence which implicated them and Mr Metsing, Commissioner Tšooana said.
“When they came at around 3am on Saturday, the soldiers smashed a radio-room at Police Headquarters, and took away keys which then allowed them access into the whole facility, and also police vehicles and motorbikes.
“They didn’t even bother to disguise themselves during these attacks, and right now, they are driving branded police vehicles and motorbikes, while wearing their army uniform,” he said.
Giving a detailed account of the attack, which the prime minister has since called a coup attempt, Commissioner Tšooana said: “The report I received from the officers who were on duty at the Police Headquarters, was that when the soldiers swarmed in, they ordered them to get the criminal dockets of Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, as well as those of eight LDF suspects, who the police have been trying to interview but without success, on the bombing of my home and those of two Moshoeshoe II families. The soldiers also wanted the dockets we have on the shooting of Lisebo Tang and Tšepo Jane, who were attacked near Kamoli’s Ha Leqele residence early this year.
“I was also told that in addition, the soldiers were looking for me personally, and searched all over the place after noticing my Lexus vehicle, which was parked on the premises. Fortunately, I wasn’t on the premises, which I believe is the reason why I am alive today.”
Commissioner Tšooana said he had been trying to contact Lt Gen Kamoli “for almost a month” regarding the handover of soldiers who were on duty when Tang and Jane’s vehicle was sprayed with bullets, resulting in the death of the former.
“I had been contacting him for about a month, asking him to handover the soldiers who were on duty at his home on the night Lisebo Tang and Tšepo Jane, were shot.
“He never responded, although I had also made him aware that the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had given us a directive to arrest those suspects.
“Again, when conducting an operation the way the army said it was doing, why kill people? One police officer was killed during Saturday’s raid at Police Headquarters, and scores of others injured.
“The soldiers also then put the body of the dead police officer in my Lexus, and then left him there. Is that how you conduct an operation?”
Commissioner Tšooana accused Lt Gen Kamoli of being “disrespectful because on Saturday morning, his soldiers were also seen at State House looking for the prime minister, and also at Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane’s home. This clearly shows he was unhappy that he had been fired as LDF Commander the previous day, and was looking for revenge.
“This man has no respect for the law and His Majesty because the legal notice published in the Government Gazette on 29 August 2014, which appointed Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao as the new LDF Commander, was approved by His Majesty King Letsie III himself.”
Commissioner Tšooana also alleged there are continuing raids on LMPS members’ homes and the Police Training College by the LDF “where soldiers stole police uniform”.
“We don’t really know where they are taking our uniform to and I would like to urge Basotho that the police are currently not in uniform until an official announcement has been made about the issue.
“If you see anyone in LMPS uniform before the announcement, just know that person is not a police officer. These soldiers want to use our uniform to commit crime, and then accuse our members of that criminal act.”
Asked if the LMPS was siding with the ABC in the party’s dispute with its coalition government partner, the LCD, Commissioner Tšooana said: “Police officers or authorities don’t attend ABC secret meetings and never drive vehicles belonging to ABC-led ministries.
“But Basotho have witnessed soldiers driving Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship and Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology vehicles.
“This nation should make its own judgement as to which security agency is indeed politically being used.”
Commissioner Tšooana further indicated it was “disappointing” to hear some government ministers “spreading propaganda” that the police authorities attend ABC secret meetings “while suspects of the three bombings which happened in January were the ones who have been seen with Metsing.”
Commissioner Tšooana said he would only come to Lesotho, and that the police return to duty, once the security and political situation returned to normal.
“We cannot secure people’s lives when we are not secure ourselves. It is our great hope that SADC (Southern African Development Community) and all stakeholders will intervene and bring the state back to normality.”