MASERU – Three fugitives wanted on treason charges that arose from the 2007 political disturbances returned home and handed themselves over to the police this week.
The three were part of the six men who fled to South Africa after being implicated in the political disturbances.
Some of the men were alleged to be All Basotho Convention (ABC) party members but the real connection has never been really established.
In June 2007 Lesotho was almost plunged into political chaos when some people attacked ministers’ homes and shot at their security details.
The government imposed a curfew.
Police suspect that the six men were part of a group that masterminded the attacks as part of a grand scheme to topple the government.
They were also wanted for armed robbery and illegal possession of firearms.
The fugitives are Khotso Lebakang, Thabo Thantsi, Mokherane Tsatsanyane, Mokotoko Lerotholi, Thabo Motlomelo and Semoli Semoli.
Semoli died while in self-imposed exile in South Africa.
Lerotholi and Thantsi were army officers.
They were arrested by the military police but later claimed to have been tortured while in custody.
They later skipped the country.
The other four fled the country around the same time as soon as they knew that police had launched a manhunt for them.
Lesotho made several attempts to get them extradited from South Africa but failed.
The Lesotho Times can exclusively reveal that Khotso Lebakang, Thabo Thantsi and Mokherane Tsatsanyane are back in Lesotho.
Investigations have revealed that Mokherane who is son to former ABC member Moeketsi Tsatsanyane slipped back into the country at around 3pm on Tuesday.
He immediately handed himself to the police.
By yesterday afternoon he was still in police custody but his father said he believed he was fine.
Thantsi came back on Tuesday morning around 9am and also went straight to the police.
He was escorted to the police station by his lawyer Advocate Haae Phoofolo.
Phoofolo also escorted Lebakang who came back on Monday last week around 10am.
Phoofolo confirmed that he accompanied Thantsi and Lebakang to the police.
“I went with Lebakang on Monday and he was well received by the police,” Phoofolo said.
Lebakang was released the same day.
Police said they will call him when they want him, according to Phoofolo.
“Thantsi came back on Tuesday and I took him to the police. It went fine. The police were not hostile at all.”
By yesterday afternoon he was still in police custody but Phoofolo said he spoke to him on Tuesday night and ‘he was fine’.
Motlomelo has been in contact with his legal team and sources say he is likely to come back to Lesotho as well.
Lerotholi has not been in contact with his legal team.
The Lesotho Times understands that the decision to come back was a result of months of negotiations between their families and the police.
Part of the condition for their return was that the police should ensure that they are not harassed by the army when they come back.
Tsatsanyane said the families of the men had worked hard to ensure their safe return.
He said he was happy that his son was back.
“That boy is my eldest son. He is like my father. I am relieved that he is back,” Tsatsanyane said.
“I also appreciate the manner in which the police handled the issue. It was professional.”
It seems that there were however some political help from ABC leader, Tom Thabane.
This paper is aware that Thabane wrote to the Commissioner of Police ‘Malejaka Letooane around January 20 requesting that the men be allowed back into the country.
In that letter Thabane asked for assurances that when the men decide to come back they would not be harassed.
Thabane confirmed that he indeed wrote the letter.
“As a party we wrote to the police to facilitate their return. I initiated the process,” Thabane said.
“We believe that none of the men were running away from the police. They were running away from the army which wanted to interfere with the process.
“We wanted justice to take its course and we believe justice will be done if these men come into the country without interference from other entities.”
Thabane said the police responded positively.
He however refused to say what the commissioner specifically said in his response.
The Lesotho Times is in possession of another letter that Thabane wrote to non-governmental organisations and civic groups asking them to be present when the men handed themselves over to the police.
The letter dated January 20 was written to the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisation (LCN) and the Law Society of Lesotho.
“This issue of requesting an opportunity for our political refugees to return home is important for us and for their families,” said Thabane in the letter.
“As a political party we understand that crimes did occur and this should be an issue between the fugitives and the police and not involve the army.”
“Those who may somehow have been affected in anyway may only be called to give evidence in the courts of law.”
Tsatsanyane however dismissed the suggestion that Thabane had played a crucial role on the issue.
“It’s their families who did the bulk of the work. Thabane just wrote some letters to the police but the real negotiations were done by the families,” he said.
A senior official with LCN confirmed that they received a letter from the ABC but they could not comment further.
“As a human rights organisation we are not ready to comment on the issue because we are still trying to find some ways of dealing with the issue because it is very sensitive,” she said.
Police could not be reached for comment yesterday but a junior officer at the headquarters said they were not aware that some of the fugitives had handed themselves to the police.
Additional reporting by Ntsebeng Motsoeli and Nat Molomo