FORMER Airwing Commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Exavery Letsoela, has been appointed the new commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) as the government continues with efforts to restructure the security sector and weed out elements associated with detained former commander Tlali Kennedy Kamoli.
Lt-Gen Letsoela replaces Major General Lineo Poopa who has been acting commander since the 5 September 2017 assassination of Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
Government also made further made significant changes to the LDF top brass, appointing Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s former bodyguard, Matela Matobakele, Deputy Commander. He has also been promoted to the rank of Major General.
Maj-Gen Poqa Motoa, who previously held the rank of Brigadier, has also been appointed as Chief of Staff for Administration and Human Resource affairs while Major General Ramanka Mokaloba, (previously a Brigadier) was appointed Inspector General of the LDF.
The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence and National Security, Colonel Tanki Mothae (Retired), this week confirmed Lt-Gen Letsoela’s and other appointments. Lt-Gen Letsoela’s is with effect from 23 January 2018 while the other appointments are with effect from 24 January 2014. He added that Maj- Gen Poopa had been retired with immediate effect pending redeployment elsewhere in government. The nation will be informed of Maj- Gen Poopa’s new assignment in due course, he said.
Colonel Mothae said, without elaborating, that more changes would be made at the LDF in the coming months.
He said His Majesty King Letsie III, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, had decided to appoint Lt-Gen Letsoela as the new LDF head with effect from 23 January 2017.
He described the appointment as “critical in the restructuring of the LDF”.
The defence principal secretary said Maj Gen Poopa’s retirement followed discussions the outgoing commander had with the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister held discussions with Maj Gen Lineo Poopa and he has since been retired. The nation will be informed of his next appointment as agreed with the Prime Minister,” Col Mothae said.
Maj Gen Poopa was appointed acting commander following the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, who was gunned down by Brigadier Sechele and Colonel Hashatsi , at his Ratjomose Barracks offices in Maseru.
According to the government, the two killed Lt-Gen Motšomotšo after accusing him of “selling them out” after his decision to hand over various members of the LDF accused of various crimes during Lt-Gen Kamoli’s reign to the police for investigations and prosecution.
Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, who had served as Lt-Gen Kamoli’s deputy, during the latter’s reign of terror period, had made an about turn and started fully cooperating with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s coalition which took power after the June 3 snap plebiscite. Lt-Gen Motšomotšo had told Messrs Hashatsi and Sechele that he had no option but to cooperate in the implementation of a SADC commission of inquiry report which recommended the prosecution of all LDF officers involved in various atrocities under Kamoli.
Two junior LDF officers, Corporal Tjekane Sebolai and Private Selone Ratšiu, had already been handed over to the police for interrogation over the fatal shooting of Lisebo Tang near Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli’s residence in Ha Leqele in May 2014. Ms Tang, who was in the company of her partner, was shot after being inexplicably mistaken for a person intending to cause harm to Lt-Gen Kamoli.
Several former LDF officers, including Lt-Gen Kamoli himself, are now in detention over various other atrocities including the murder of former army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, the shooting of Lesotho Times Editor Lloyd Mutungamiri, the bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former Police Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, among other cases.
None of the soldiers involved in the atrocities had been prosecuted under the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven party coalition regime, with the Democratic Congress (DC) leader saying SADC recommendations were not binding.
However, Dr Thabane, whose All Basotho Convention (ABC) and its coalition partners had born the biggest brunt of Lt-Gen Kamoli’s excesses, moved fast to implement SADC recommendations after assuming power in June 2017.
Even though Dr Thabane had the grace to appoint Major General Poopa as acting commander in the wake of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s murder, sources said that Major General Poopa would never be confirmed to become substantive head of the LDF.
This was because his name had loomed large in some of the Kamoli era atrocities. Major General Poopa’s name looms large in Lt-Gen Kamoli’s attempted coup of 30 August 2014 during which the LDF raided police stations, seized arms and the killing of police officer, Sub Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko.
The sources said more senior soldiers would be investigated and arraigned in line with the SADC recommendations. So far no-one has been actually charged over the 30 August 2014 coup attempt which was condemned widely as an illegal act.
Maj-Gen Poopa is also suspected of having a hand in the escape of former National Security Service, Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, whom the police wanted to interrogate. Col Lekhooa is alleged to have fled the country and has not been seen or heard of since. It is understood that the police had appealed to Maj-Gen Poopa to assist in the arrest of Tumo Lekhooa to no avail.
“The police have an interest in some senior army officers who cannot be interrogated at the moment because of their positions. Therefore, some drastic changes will have to be made in the LDF to facilitate investigations,” one of the sources said.
Another source also added: “Not so long-ago, SADC spoke of some rogue soldiers who were likely to cause trouble, and that these soldiers needed to be isolated. We are likely to see the interrogation of these high-ranking soldiers by the police now that the position of the commander has been substantively filled by a professional man.”
Lt-Gen Letsoela’s Biography
Lt-Gen Letsoela joined the army in March 1987. He enrolled in the Pilot Pupils Course at Dunnotar Central Flying School in Pretoria, South Africa in 1992. He received his flying wings in November 1992 and proceeded to the Multi-Engine Flying School (MEFS) for an Operational Conversion Course at Bloemspruit Air Base in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1993.
Thereafter, he returned to Lesotho as full time operational pilot for subsequent type ratings on service Casa 212 and Cessna 182Q aircraft. He attended several aviation training courses and military staff appointment preparatory training programmes.
He rose through the ranks holding different staff appointments including Flying Instructor, Base Flight Safety Officer and Director: Air Operations and Training. He enrolled for a two-year diploma non-resident training programme on Aircraft Accident Investigations under the auspices of the Singapore Aviation Academy (SAA) from 2006 to 2008.
Upon graduation from Singapore Aviation Academy, he attended the Joint Command and Staff Course (Senior Division) at the Zimbabwe Staff College in 2009, in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Concurrently, he pursued a part-time Diploma in Defence and Strategic Security Studies and International Relations at the University of Zimbabwe. He was appointed Deputy Airwing Commander in 2011, occupying the rank of Major.
He was promoted to Airwing Commander in August 2013, occupying the rank of Brigadier. In 2014, he attended the Executive National Security Programme at the South African National Defence College in Pretoria before he was promoted to the rank of Major General as the Airwing Commander in November 2016.
He was awarded several medals for excellence, including the Military Gallantry, Military Brave Deeds, Military Meritorious and Military Service Medal.