Attack on soldiers sparks renewed security fears   

  • assailants got away with guns, ammunition

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

TWO army officers were last week attacked at the Makoanyane Barracks in Maseru by unknown assailants who made off with their rifles and live ammunition.

Following the attack, the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)’s Public Affairs Officer, Lieutenant Kelebone Mothibi, told the Lesotho Times that the LDF would not hesitate to take “stern measures” against rogue soldiers and civilians who steal weapons and threaten the country’s security.

Lt Mothibi said a manhunt had been launched to apprehend the culprits who attacked the two male officers and got away with two Galil rifles and live ammunition. He said the two officers had been placed in military custody as the army and the police commenced investigations to ascertain if they were part of any plot to steal weapons.

Lt Mothibi said the two officers, both of the rank of private, were on duty at the guardhouse at the entrance to the Makoanyane Barracks when they were attacked and robbed on Sunday morning.

“Two black Galil rifles with folded butts were stolen. The guns were loaded with magazines holding 30 rounds of live ammunition each. We cannot divulge the details of the attack pending investigations. The remains of an explosive that looked like a grenade was discovered at the scene and it is suspected that it was used during the attack.

“The two officers are still in the LDF military police’s custody pending investigations to find out if they were part of the crime. It is standard practice (to detain army officers who are on duty) when a crime happens. Legal action will be taken against them if they are suspected to have been part of the crime. But they will be released if they were not involved in the crime. The LDF command will not harbour criminals in the army. The command will take legal action against suspects whether they are members of the army or civilians,” Lt Mothibi said.

He said this was not the first incident where LDF firearms had been stolen. He said in 2007, soldiers who were deployed to provide security to some cabinet ministers had their guns stolen.

He also cited another 2009 incident where firearms were stolen at Makoanyane barracks but were later recovered.

He advised LDF officers to be vigilant at all times to prevent such attacks.

Last November, two army officers were arrested after twenty Very High Frequency (VHF) communications radios and various food items were stolen from the LDF.

It has not been established whether or not there was any connection between the theft of the communications equipment and previous plots to destabilise the country.

The regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) has previously warned of the likelihood of army equipment including missing arms of war being used in plots by rogue soldiers to destabilise the country.

The theft of the equipment came just two weeks before the departure of the SADC standby force in November 2018.

The SADC standby force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL), was officially unveiled in Lesotho on 2 December 2017 as part of regional efforts to foster a conducive environment for the implementation of constitutional, security sector, public service, media and governance reforms in line with the recommendations of the regional body.

The standby force was made up of 217 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 13 civilian experts. It completed its original six-month mandate in May 2018 but this was subsequently extended to November 2018 to enable it to assist Lesotho in the implementation of the multi-sector reforms which were recommended by SADC in 2016.

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

A confidential report by SADC ahead of the standby force’s deployment stated that some arms of war had gone missing from the LDF armoury and warned that missing weapons could be used by rogue soldiers to launch reprisal attacks as efforts to hold them accountable for past transgressions intensified.

The report speaks of arms of war and ammunition missing from the armoury of the LDF as well as heavy AK47 rifles that disappeared from the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS).

Last October, Communications Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane and the deputy army commander, Major General Matela Matobakele, also warned of a plot by some unnamed senior people to cause mayhem and destabilise the country after the departure of the SADC standby force.

Meanwhile, the LDF public affairs office has appealed to the public to come forward with information that could lead to the arrest of the suspects behind this week’s attack and robbery at Makoanyane Barracks.

“The LDF public affairs office wishes to inform the Basotho nation about an incident where two army officers were attacked at the Makoanyane Barracks at or near the exit gate that leads to Ha-Leqele village in the morning hours of Sunday 6 October 2019.

“Preliminary reports indicate that two army firearms were stolen in the attack. This incident has been reported to the police and joint investigations by the police and the LDF have commenced.  Members of the public are humbly requested to give any information that can lead the police to arrest the suspects,” the LDF said in its statement.

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