All set for SADC troops’ withdrawal 

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Staff Writers

ALL is set for the withdrawal of Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops from the country next week with an exit parade slated for Setsoto Stadium in Maseru on the 20th of November.

Well-placed sources within SADC this week told the Lesotho Times that it was highly unlikely that the tenure of the Standby Force would be extended after the regional body cancelled an emergency meeting that had initially been planned for Maseru to discuss the political situation in Lesotho.

The sources said the cancelled meeting would have deliberated on whether or not to extend the tenure of the SADC troops whose tour of duty ends next week.

The sources further said that instead, the regional has resolved to hold an extra-ordinary summit whose dates and venue are yet to be announced. Besides deliberating on Lesotho’s progress in the implementation of multi-sector reforms, the sources said the extra-ordinary summit will also discuss the political situation in the Comoros, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“The (canceled) meeting would have deliberated on whether or not to extend the tenure of the SADC troops whose tour of duty ends next week,” said one source.

“There will now be a fully-fledged extra-ordinary summit on a date and venue that is yet to be decided. The extra-ordinary summit will also discuss the political situation in the Comoros, Madagascar and the DRC. It is however, unlikely that this summit will still discuss the extension of the SADC Standby Force because by the time it is held the troops would have most likely left Lesotho.”

The Lesotho Times also understands that the SADC troops who have been stationed in Lesotho since December 2017 have not been informed of any plans of a possible extension of their tour of duty and they are continuing with their preparations to withdraw.

Last night, a press release issued by the SADC Communication and Public Relations Unit confirmed the imminent departure of the SADC troops, stating that an exit parade will be held at Setsoto Stadium next Tuesday ahead of their withdrawal from the country.

“You are cordially invited to the closing down ceremony of the SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL) on the 20th of November 2018, at a ceremony to be held at Setsoto Stadium at 08.00 hours.

“The key speakers at the ceremony will be the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane and the SADC Executive Secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax,” SADC said in the statement.

The Standby Force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL), was unveiled in the country on 2 December 2017. It is made of 207 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 12 civilian experts.

The SADC force was essentially deployed to prevent rogue LDF soldiers from destabilising Dr Thabane’s coalition as it went about implementing SADC recommended reforms to curb perennial instability in the Kingdom.

The reforms include holding rogue LDF members accountable for their past atrocities and helping mould the LDF into a professional force via some targeted re-training.

The SADC forces were informed about their impending pull-out at a recent conference attended by military personnel from the countries that contributed troops to the Standby Force, namely Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The SADC sources said the conference did not deliberate on whether or not to extend the mission which was initially scheduled to end in May this year before it was extended to November.

And this week the SADC sources said it was highly unlikely that the mission would be extended as the Standby Force will start its pull-out on 21 November after their exit parade a day earlier.

“Nothing has been said to the troops regarding an extension. As we speak most of the troops already have their plane tickets and if there is to be an extension then it means there will be costs to be incurred in the cancellation of the tickets and travel plans,” one source said.

Zambia’s Brigadier General (Retired) Timothy Kazembe, who took over the leadership of SAPMIL from Angola’s Matias Matondo in September this year, could not be reached for comment as he was said to be in his home country.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lesogo Makgothi was not available on his mobile phone for comment yesterday.

The Lesotho Times was informed last week that Prime Minister Thabane’s government was still making frantic efforts to have the tenure of the Standby Force extended. Foreign Minister Lesego Makgothi nevertheless refused to comment saying: “I would rather reserve any comment”.

SAPMIL was initially deployed for a period of six months until May 2018 after which the mission was extended by a further six months to November 2018 to foster a conducive environment to help the country in implementing SADC’s recommended multi-sectoral reforms while pushing for the restoration of the rule of law.

The reforms were recommended by SADC in 2016 as part of measures to bring lasting peace and stability to the country.

The regional body’s recommendations were made in the aftermath of the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led SADC Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, by his army colleagues in 2015.

The regional body gave Lesotho until May 2019 to have fully implemented constitutional and security sector reforms but the process has been stalled by bickering between the government and the opposition with the later making a plethora of demands before it participates.

However, the impasse between the two sides seems to have finally been resolved after they signed a pledge committing to participating in the reforms process.

As part of the deal, the government agreed that former Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Mothetjoa Metsing, and other exiled leaders “will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the dialogue and reforms process”.

The government-opposition deal cleared the way for the return of Mr Metsing and other exiled leaders, now set for 25 November 2018. It remains to be seen whether or not Mr Metsing will actually set foot in the country after last week’s High Court interdict against a clause in the reforms deal offering politicians exemptions from prosecution the reforms process.

The High Court decision followed an application by the family of the slain army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao and other families whose relatives lost their lives during the political instability from 2014 to 2017.

The applicants were Thabo Khetheng, Maphanya Mahao, Mamonaheng Ramahloko, Malehlohonolo Nteso and Mamohau Qobete. They argued that clause 10 of the recent agreement between the government and the opposition should be declared unconstitutional as it sought to suspend any criminal proceedings against Mr Metsing and others who are implicated in the deaths of the applicants’ relatives.

Although the case is set to be heard on 22 November, the opposition has indicated that Mr Metsing’s return would not be determined by the outcome of the court case and he is expected to be part of the proceedings of a multi-stakeholder forum on 26 November in Maseru.

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