Army chief breaks silence on attacks

Special Correspondent

 MASERU — Lesotho Defence Force commander says the April 22 attacks on  State House and Makoanyane Military Base were actions of rogue elements that are still lurking in the army.

Lt Gen Thuso Motanyane told the Lesotho Times in an exclusive interview last week that those rogue elements had tarnished the “good image” of an army that had worked hard to professionalise itself.

This is Motanyane’s first public acknowledgement that there are still some hostile elements within the army.

This is also the first time the commander has given an interview to a local newspaper since the April 22 attacks.

The attacks, Motanyane says, were an indication that more needs to be done to weed out ill-disciplined soldiers from army ranks.

Lesotho was almost plunged into political chaos when a band of about 15 suspected mercenaries attacked State House and Makoanyane Military Base last April.

The suspected insurgents who included some Mozambicans and South Africans wanted to assassinate Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and topple his government.

Their plan however faltered when they met stiff resistance from the VIP battalion at  State House and the subsequent clash they had with Lesotho’s combined forces.

Four of the suspected mercenaries were killed in the fire exchanges that ensued while two others were arrested.

Seven others were captured by the South African police after they skipped the border in flight.

The government is still battling to extradite the seven to Lesotho to face trial.

The attack left the LDF’s reputation in tatters after it emerged that some of its members could have aided the suspected insurgents.

A report by the Steyn Commission of Inquiry, a commission set up by Mosisili to investigate the attacks, reveals that the suspects received inside help.

It says some soldiers could have aided the enemy by leaking confidential information to the suspected insurgents.

The report also recommends that disciplinary action should be taken against LDF soldiers who are suspected to have co-operated with the attackers.

Motanyane says he regrets the army’s image was “soiled by the involvement of some of the soldiers in rebellious acts”.

“It’s regrettable that previously certain elements within the LDF, or the larger army itself, were involved in unsavory and criminal acts that undermined democracy and the rule of law,” he says.

But Motanyane says the findings by the commission should not be read to mean that the whole LDF was unprofessional.

The attacks, he adds, happened at a time when the LDF was already working hard to be a professional unit.

The army was already in the middle of a restructuring process that started several years ago, he says.

He says “problem” soldiers have been court-martialled while others have been expelled.

The idea, he says, was to have an army that understands its role in a democratic dispensation and the importance of the rule of law.

The army started thinking seriously about restructuring after some of its members were alleged to have been involved in the chaos that ensued after the 1993 and the 1998 polls.

“This forced us to launch a programme to train the army personnel to understand the role of the army within a democratic dispensation,” Motanyane says.

He says such efforts include sensitising the government and the political authority “to understand their approach and handling of the army”.

Significant strides have been made to professionalise and maintain discipline within the rank and file, he adds. 

He says the gallant resistance that the VIP guards at  State House put up in the face of vicious attacks on April 22  last year is a testimony that the army is becoming professional.

The soldiers who battled it out at the State House had been deployed following an intensive VIP protection training under the Indian Army Training Team.

The three-month training exercise, concluded in March last year, was part of the restructuring process.

He says of all previous reports on problems within the army the Steyn report was the only one that has highlighted the professionalism within the LDF.

This, he says, “is a good sign, and shows we are in the right direction despite those unfortunate incidents”.

“We don’t generally have a problem of ill-discipline that involves all soldiers but individual rogue elements that we are dealing with successfully.”

The commander says part of the problems of ill-discipline that the army has had to deal with involve former soldiers, ex-members of the now defunct Lesotho Liberation Army as well as former police officers.

“And on our part we try to involve our retired personnel in military social gatherings and other activities of the LDF to create harmonious interaction and build trust.

“We bring our soldiers closer to command in all respects to defuse whatever rebellious acts they may be lured into,” he says.

He says retired LDF officers have established a club for these purposes and other self-reliance projects with the assistance of the army.

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