Army allays citizens’ fears

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Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) says citizens have nothing to fear from its Saturday deployment on the streets of Maseru as this was just a routine “a show of force” to reassure citizens of its capability to protect them and to maintain order.

Heavily armed soldiers poured onto the streets of Maseru early on Saturday. This caused widespread panic with some fearing a repeat of the previous acts of brutality against citizens witnessed in 1998 and in the period 2014 to 2017 when some civilians were killed and others tortured. Some soldiers have been accused of assaulting civilians since the army began enforcing a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID — 19). The lockdown began on 30 March 2020 and will now end on 5 May 2020 after it was extended yesterday by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. In deploying the army on Saturday, Mr Thabane appealed to them to deal with party rivals and others who he accused of destabilising his government. Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli has also alleged that the real reason for the deployment was for the army to arrest him so that he would be replaced with a pliant commissioner who would save Mr Thabane for prosecution for allegedly murdering his ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane, in 2017. (See story on page 4).

Faced with widespread criticism, the LDF felt compelled to reassure citizens that its deployment was just a routine exercise meant to demonstrate its preparedness to maintain order.

“On April 18 2020, the Lesotho Defence Force deployed in the capital town, Maseru to parade its readiness and show of force to reassure the local population and to maintain order,” the LDF said in its statement on Facebook.

“It is not the first time the LDF conducts foot and mobile patrols around the city, the LDF members are deployed in all ten districts of Lesotho during the COVID — 19 state of emergency and lockdown that the LDF enforced from 30 March 2020 to date.”

However, the LDF statement contradicts Mr Thabane’s televised address where he told the nation that he had unleashed the army to deal with individuals who threatened to destabilise his government.

Mr Thabane said he was aware that some members of the public and government institutions trusted to enforce the rule of law were out to taint the image of his government.

He said they used the courts of law to achieve their purpose.

“I am fully aware of such trends (to destabilise government) and have therefore concluded that they must be stopped for the safety of the public and maintaining of rule of law,” Mr Thabane said, adding “I have instructed armed forces of Lesotho to take control and restore stability in the country”.

Mr Thabane indicated that individuals that would be found guilty of destabilising the country would be taken to court regardless of their positions.

His comments were widely seen by many as a reference to political parties including his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) which on Friday succeeded in their Constitutional Court application to nullify Mr Thabane’s prorogation of parliament. The comments were also seen as a reference to Commissioner Molibeli who also obtained an interim court order against Mr Thabane’s moves to suspend him.

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