THE government has vowed to leave no stone unturned in unmasking and prosecuting the “co-conspirators” in the assassination of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo, within and outside the military.
According to Brigadier Ramanka Mokaloba, it was apparent that Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s killers did not conceive the assassination plot alone, adding that an ongoing investigation would soon uncover the co-conspirators.
He said this while addressing a memorial service for Lt-Gen Motšomotšo earlier this week at ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre in Maseru. The slain LDF commander is expected be laid to rest today in his home village of Ha Lesaoana, Malibamatšo in Butha-Buthe district.
Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was shot dead on 5 September 2017 by Brigadier Bulane Sechele who had been accompanied by Colonel Tefo Hashatsi and a third officer on the fateful day at Ratjomose barracks office.
This is according to the government’s account which also states that Brig Sechele, Col Hashatsi and a third officer had confronted Lt-Gen Motšomotšo over the police’s investigation of three army officers implicated in the killing of a woman near the home of former LDF commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.
After Lt-Gen Motšomotšo explained that the investigation was being conducted in the spirit of implementing Southern African Development Community (SADC) decisions to probe LDF members implicated in acts of criminality, Brig Sechele allegedly pulled out a firearm and fatally shot the army commander.
Brig Sechele and Col Hashatsi were pummelled with bullets by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards outside his office after they realised what had happened to the LDF chief. Brig Sechele died on the spot, while Col Hashatsi died of his wounds in a nearby hospital.
The third LDF officer is currently in custody and assisting with investigations. Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s deputy, Major-General Lineo Poopa, was appointed acting LDF commander by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane hours after the assassination.
Brig Mokaloba said the co-conspirators should hand themselves over to the authorities since investigations into the matter are ongoing.
Brig Mokaloba described the assassination as a “demonic act” which left many unanswered questions.
“This is not God’s act as many people would want to say, it is a demonic act.
“Basotho pay their taxes to make sure that we protect them, while our role is to foster economic growth through ensuring peace.”
The LDF, he said, would not allow the co-conspirators to make the country ungovernable, adding that they were looking for the “mastermind” of the assassination.
“We are going to make sure that this country is governable and all those who are conspirators in this act, those who have fled and those who disguised themselves should know that their time is up,” added Brig Mokaloba.
Echoing the sentiment, Ministry of Defence and National Security Principal Secretary, Colonel Tanki Mothae, stressed that the military should be under civilian control and not be a law unto itself.
“The reason we are here today is because Motšomotšo had submitted himself and the LDF to civilian control, paving the way for the implementation of SADC decisions which were taken after Lesotho ran to the regional bloc seeking assistance in bringing peace to the country,” he said.
“Unfortunately, some people did not want to abide by this noble idea.”
Col Mothae said the co-conspirators should come out of the woodwork and face the music.
“We know that the two renegade officers who were killed during the attack of the commander are dead but the question is; were they the only ones?” he said.
“The answer is no! The commander (Maj-Gen Poopa) should be able to tell us where the others are and we know that he has already started investigating who the others are.”
Col Mothae added: “I am appealing to you, those who are hiding in the bushes to come out because we are going to those bushes.
“Those who are hiding in holes like Saddam Hussein did in Iraq, come out because we are going to eject you from those holes. As for you ladies and gentlemen out there who are external players in the whole act, hand yourselves over to the police because you are co-conspirators. The arm of justice will grab you from wherever you are.”
He said the implementation of the SADC decisions would not be hindered by the assassination. The SADC decisions stem from recommendations made by a Commission of Inquiry established by the regional bloc following the fatal shooting of former LDF commander, Lt-Gen Mahao, by his former colleagues in June 2015.
Led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana, the commission probed the circumstances surrounding Lt-Gen Mahao’s killing and the root causes for Lesotho’s perennial instability between 31 August and 23 October 2015.
The Phumaphi Commission recommended that the government investigate Lt-Gen Mahao’s killing and prosecute those found responsible.
It also recommended the suspension of LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into the allegations proceeded in line with international best practice.
“The roadmap that the government is working on will not be affected by recent events,” Col Mothae said.
“We are very sorry for the loss to the Motšomotšo family because we never knew that there were so many Judases’ in the force.
“My appeal is to all men and women who are non-members of the LDF who have a hand in this act to hand themselves over voluntarily so as to help us avoid using harsh means of bringing them to justice.”
For his part, Maj-Gen Poopa said that allegations that all LDF members would be prosecuted were baseless as it only affected “rogue elements”.
“We are going to uproot all the rogue elements in the army and we will do so in collaboration with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service in a bid to restore the dignity of the army to the people,” he said.
“I therefore plead with Basotho to bear in mind that all we are going to do is for the good of the people and we shall leave no stone unturned to find everlasting peace for Lesotho.”
On behalf of the LDF, Maj-Gen Poopa apologised to the nation for failing to protect Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
“We are sorry that we failed to protect our commander, maybe he would still be alive, but we have failed the nation, we have failed the whole continent and we are sorry,” he said, adding that Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was killed “for trying to bring normalcy to the Kingdom of Lesotho”.
Family representative and Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s brother, Mahlomola Motšomotšo, said they were still trying to come to terms with the LDF commander’s demise.
He said they were heartened by the fact that his killers “did not get away with it”.
“We have lost a diamond. His killers have died by the barrel of the gun because they killed him through the barrel of the gun,” Mr Motšomotšo said.
“If the killers had managed to run away, we would have demanded justice from the government. The only thing left for us to do is to celebrate the life of this forthright man and hope that his killing will result in lasting peace for this nation.”
Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki said the assassination of the army chief highlighted the security crisis the nation was faced with.
“It has left us with questions about how secure we are as a people when an army commander, who is entrusted with protecting the nation, is assassinated,” he said.
“What can we say about our own protection when a whole army commander is killed?”
The deputy premier said the assassination had been meticulously planned, adding that Maj-Gen Poopa and the LDF should not beat themselves about failing to protect Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
“There was nothing you could have done to avoid this in light of the circumstances,” he said.
“What you can do is to reinforce security measures because we don’t want the acting LDF commander to also get killed.”