. . . as govt pleads poverty, says it has no money to continue funding Mozambique tour of duty
LESOTHO Defence Force (LDF) troops could be forced to prematurely return home from their Mozambique tour of duty where they have joined soldiers from other African countries in the fight against Islamic insurgents.
This amid revelations by Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea that the government is broke and has no money to continue funding their upkeep.
A total of 125 LDF soldiers were deployed to Mozambique in August 2021 as part of a SADC initiative to assist the Mozambican government in the fight against Islamic terrorists in the northern parts of the country.
Their tour of duty had initially been expected to end this month. However, it was last week extended to April 2022 by SADC leaders who had met in Lilongwe, Malawi, to review the Mozambique situation.
Speaking on the issue this week, Mr Sophonea said the government was still to decide on whether or not the troops would remain in Mozambique.
He said there were “some issues that needed to be ironed out first” before they could commit to the soldiers remaining in Mozambique.
Among others, there was no clarity as to whether SADC will be paying their allowances and where that money will come from, he said.
“From the onset, there were some issues that were not clear and these have to be ironed out first before we can commit,” Mr Sophonea said in an interview.
“The government doesn’t have money to continue paying the soldiers’ allowances in Mozambique. We also don’t have money to pay for their food. These issues have to be cleared first. There was also a confusion because it had initially been said that SADC would cover their allowances while ours would be to cover some basic things and ensuring that they have ammunition. But we have been paying their allowances.
“We were already struggling to cover those expenses in these past months and I don’t think we can manage for the next three months of the extension. Even after this extension, there could still be another extension. There is likely to be a peace keeping mission which will require an even bigger number of people since it will include police officers, correctional service officers and others,” Mr Sophonea said. He would not say how much was required for the upkeep of the soldiers.
He said he had received reports that SADC had sent some money directly to the LDF. However, he would not say how much had been sent. He said they had not yet met with the LDF command to discuss the issue.
On his part, LDF spokesperson, Captain Sakeng Lekola, said they were not in a position to comment on the matter as it was being handled by the government.
“These are issues of logistics and they are handled by the government. We are on a government assignment (in Mozambique) and ours is just to take orders. We will just do what we are told to do. But all issues of logistics are dealt with by the government and we cannot comment on them,” Captain Lekola said.
The Islamic insurgency broke out in the northern province of Cabo Delgado in 2017. Apart from SADC countries, the east African nation of Rwanda has also contributed troops to the fight against the terrorists.