Army fingered in coup attempt

MASERU — Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers co-operated with the enemy during the attacks at Makoanyane military base and the State House on April 22 last year, a lawyer assisting the commission investigating the attacks has said.

In his submission to the commission, Tsebang Putsoane, said this week that the LDF soldiers breached security regulations on a number of occasions.

Putsoane asked the chairman of the commission Jan Steyn to conclude that “there was inside co-operation with the enemy”.

Putsoane said keys to the Armoured Personnel Carrier and a Land Rover vehicle which were captured by the insurgents were found in their ignitions when they were supposed to be kept in the office.

“This was clearly in breach of the rules relating to the safety and security of property within the base,” Putsoane said in his submissions.

“We submit that this was the most negligent act committed by guards on duty in particular the officer-in-charge. That act facilitated easy capture of the vehicles by the attackers.

“We accordingly submit, Honourable Chair, that the manner in which the guards executed their duties on the night the base was attacked, that is, there being no man on Sentry guns not issued to men which led to their easy capture and the leaving of the keys in the ignitions of the vehicles justifies drawing an inference that there was inside cooperation with the enemy and we request the honourable commission to draw such an inference,” Putsoane said.

Putsoane said it was also odd that the guards did not have any guns when they were ambushed by the mercenaries.

He said six Special Forces officers, Corporals Sekonyela and Sekhonyana, Privates Machachamise, Tsolele, Molise and Macheli were on standby duty within the base during the attack.

“These SF men had been issued with firearms which they were to keep in their possession at all times. These men were also expected to guard their premises as there were extra firearms kept there,” he said.

Putsoane said the Special Forces officers were found in their rooms where they were overpowered, tied-up and firearms captured.

Putsoane was surprised by the SF men’s argument that they lowered their level of alertness because their two forms of security, the inner security composed of standby platoon and the outer ring of patrolling men had never been penetrated before.

Putsoane also told the commission that the standby platoon had the duty to guard the armouries and the perimeter fence of the military base but its security arrangement was weak.

The platoon is made up of about 35 men but on the night of the attack there were only 16, Putsoane said.

All officers except one who was posted at the State House did not use radio communication to report the attacks and alert fellow soldiers of what was happening.

“Units on duty within the base could communicate without any problems and all units on duty within the base had been issued with VHF radios,” he said.

He also recalled that the officer commanding signals, Major Lehloka, told the commission that “all senior officers had been issued with VHF radios to keep in their possession at all times”.

“What is surprising is that in his capacity as the officer commanding signals he had no radio with him on the night the base was attacked.”

Putsoane said he was surprised that Lehloka said his radio had been taken for repairs some two days before the attack but he decided not to take a spare radio.

“As the officer commanding signals he is the person who has to be contacted when there are communication problems. But on the material night he had chosen not to have a radio with him,” he said.

However officers who were on duty testified that the transport unit, from which the insurgents captured army vehicles, did not have VHF radios.

The officers opted to communicate through cell phones and landline phones which were not effective because they could not alert the entire army.

“We submit that failure to use radios for purpose of communication that night compromised the security of the base and the nation at large and that enabled the enemy to escape when it could have been eliminated,” he said.

The soldiers guarding Makoanyane barracks also refused to shoot after they were ordered to do so by one Captain Ndleleni. The soldiers said they believed the vehicles were coming with friendly forces to the Makoanyane barracks.

Putsoane said when senior officers arrived at the barracks, Colonel Manyehelo ordered that the invaders should not be pursued as they had better weapons.

“What the colonel failed to do was to mobilise and to get better weapons from the armouries,” said Putsoane.

“Instead of mobilising his forces, the colonel ordered that they should wait for the brigade commander for further instructions.”

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