Coup suspects in town

MASERU — Seven men who were extradited from South Africa on Tuesday to answer charges of attempting to assassinate Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili in April 2009 appeared at the Maseru Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

The men, who were extradited from Bloemfontein, South Africa, are facing 31 charges including murder, kidnapping, robbery and illegal entry into the country.

Alberto Makwakwa, Francisco Alberto Mandlate, Mangani Malenge, Abel Nhatsave, George Thomas, Angelo Mondlani and Rocky Anthony Masinga are accused of launching a military style attack on Mosisili and the Makoanyane military barracks on April 22 2009.

They fled to South Africa on the night of April 22 after an alleged mission to assassinate Mosisili and Lesotho Defence Force commander Lt Gen Thuso Motanyane failed.

Makotoko Lerotholi, who is suspected to have led the attack, died in 2009 after a long illness.

The seven face a maximum penalty of death together with alleged accomplices Solomon Mabasa and Antonio Jose Lopes who were already awaiting trial in Maseru Central Prison.

All are Mozambican nationals except for Mabasa and Masinga who are South African.

Lesotho formally requested the extradition of the men in 2009.

The men had already spent two years in custody in South Africa before their extradition on Tuesday.

Except for Makwakwa, who was too ill to support himself, the men stood pensively as Senior Resident Magistrate Gugu Mokhoro read charges in a crammed courtroom yesterday.

A visibly-ill Makwakwa sat on the floor as the charges were being read out.

Heavily armed police had escorted the alleged mercenaries to the magistrate’s court. They were charged for acting in common purpose with a local businessman, Jessie Ramakatane, who is still at large.

Feet chained, the seven entered Court Room One through an entrance normally reserved for dangerous suspects around mid-morning.

Mokhoro told them they were facing several charges that included kidnapping and the attempted murder of Mosisili and Motanyane.

They are also facing murder charges relating to the death of four of their alleged accomplices.

The court is holding the men responsible for the death of the four alleged mercenaries who died when joint security forces exchanged fire with them at Selakhapane, Khubetsoana, in the northern outskirts of Maseru on the day of the attacks.

Mokhoro said they had contravened provisions of the Security Act (General Act No. 24 of 1984) in that they “acting in common purpose with one Jessie Ramakatane, whose whereabouts are in South Africa, did organise to have the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho and Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) arrested and/or detained and/or kidnapped and/or to assassinate the Prime Minister in furtherance of the common purpose as aforesaid”.

They are further charged with conspiracy to assassinate Mosisili.

They allegedly connived with Ramakatane at Orange Farm in the Free State province of South Africa to plot Mosisili’s assassination.

A commission of inquiry set up to investigate the attacks revealed that the alleged insurgents had been sponsored by Ramakatane.

The commission was headed by former president of the Court of Appeal Justice Jan Steyn.

The insurgents are also accused of allegedly robbing soldiers of a military Land Rover truck and some rifles used during the alleged attack on Makoanyane Military Barracks.

Mokhoro told the men who had no lawyers by their side that they had a right to legal representation as well as a right to apply for bail.

But they remain in custody because they can only apply for bail in the High Court “due to the nature of the charges they are facing”.

The men are due to appear in the High Court on May 17.

“You will now deal with the High Court on this case,” Mokhoro said.

“According to the directive from the Director of Public Prosecutions (Leaba Thetsane) you are now committed to the High Court for the trial on the said counts,” she said.

According to Justice Steyn’s report, the alleged mercenaries received help to enter Makoanyane barracks from soldiers who could still be serving in the army.

As the court was about to adjourn, one of the alleged mercenaries, Masinga, asked whether they would be allowed to communicate with their relatives to inform them about their debacle.

“We want to have access to telephones so that we can inform them (relatives) that we are no longer in South Africa,” said Masinga.

But Mokhoro said prison authorities would handle the issue.

Two police trucks packed with armed police officers escorted the men to the Central Prison at around 14:15hrs.

The government is still battling to get Ramakatane extradited from South Africa.

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