Defence minister explains delays in deploying soldiers to Mozambique

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

LESOTHO is yet to honour its pledge to send troops to war-torn Mozambique amid indications that the government does not have money and adequate resources for the undertaking.

However, Defence and National Security Minister, Halebonoe Setšabi, says it is only a matter of time before Lesotho honours its pledge. Mr Setšabi also denied that the lack of money and resources, including military equipment, was behind the delay. But in remarks which seemingly confirmed the lack of resources, he said the government had agreed with its Angolan counterparts for them to ferry Lesotho’s soldiers and equipment to Mozambique.

He also said his ministry had agreed with its Finance and Foreign Affairs and International Relations counterparts “on the money required for the mission”.

The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers ought to have left for Mozambique a fortnight ago to join troops from Rwanda and fellow SADC members states in the fight against the insurgents.

Commenting on the delay and widespread reports that Lesotho did not have the money and resources for the assignment, Mr Setšabi said, “we are still willing and ready to be part of the SADC mission in Mozambique”.

“It’s just that there has been a delay due to some logistics that need to be sorted out. This has nothing to with government not having money as some people are alleging. We are ready and once the logistics have been sorted out, we will go and join the rest of the regional troops.

“There is nothing we can do about the delay because it is not on our side. It is on SADC’s side and we take orders from the SADC team that’s already on the ground including some of our own people.  We are just waiting for them to give us the green light.

“We have already agreed with our Angolan counterparts that they will assist us to ferry our equipment and troops to Mozambique.

“The relevant ministries of defence; finance as well as foreign affairs have sat down and agreed on the issue of money that will be needed for the mission. This has been finalised and agreed on,” Mr Setšabi said.

However, he would not be drawn into saying how much had been set aside to fund the mission which is expected to compromise of 120 soldiers.

SADC has been slow to react to the insurgency which broke out in the northern province of Cabo Delgado in 2017.

On Monday, Botswana sent 3000 troops to Mozambique, becoming the first country of the 16-nation SADC grouping to do so.

Botswana’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, said the troops would work with Mozambique’s armed forces and soldiers from other SADC states to put down the insurgency which has claimed more than 3000 people and displaced thousands more since 2017.

The Botswana soldiers will join 1000 soldiers who arrived in Mozambique earlier this month from Rwanda, which is not an SADC member. The Rwandan troops reported to already be in action. A local news site, Carta de Moçambique, said they had killed 30 insurgents last week.

The SADC mission in Mozambique will be led by South African Major General Xolani Mankayi, who is already in Mozambique as part of an advance deployment.

Mozambique lies on the east coast of southern Africa and it shares borders with Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and eSwatini.

Unlike the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), SADC does not have a standing army. Individual member states contribute troops whenever there is armed conflict or instability as happened in Lesotho on several occasions. The last SADC deployment to Lesotho was from December 2017 to November 2018.

This followed the 5 September 2017 assassination of army commander, Khoantle Motšomotšo, at his Ratjomose Barracks offices, allegedly by Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.

The SADC force was essentially deployed to prevent LDF soldiers from destabilising the then governing coalition under former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane as it went about implementing SADC-recommended reforms to curb perennial instability in the kingdom.

 

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