Lesotho seeks more SADC troops

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Ngoni Muzofa

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane’s government will request the deployment of more troops to Lesotho from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) when the regional body’s double troika meeting meets in Pretoria tomorrow to review the situation in the Mountain Kingdom.

The government wants SADC, which has already deployed a handful of troops into Lesotho in the wake of the slaying of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo, to deploy an entire battalion of 300 to 400 troops to foster stability in the country as the new coalition government moves to implement reforms recommended by the regional body.

The one-day Double Troika Summit has been convened following last week’s assassination of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lt-Gen Motšomotšo by his subordinates.

The Late LDF Commander Lt. Gen Khoantle Mots’ots’o

Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was shot dead at his Ratjomose barracks office on Tuesday last week by Brigadier Bulane Sechele who was accompanied by Colonel Tefo Hashatsi and a third soldier. Brig Sechele was killed in a hail of bullets by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards soon afterwards, while Col Hashatsi died of his wounds in a nearby hospital.

The third LDF officer is currently in military custody and assisting with investigations.

After the assassination, SADC had ordered the deployment of a standby force from South Africa, Angola and Mozambique to Lesotho to prevent the latest bout of instability in the country from spiraling out of control.

Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Lesego Makgothi yesterday told the Lesotho Times that so far, only South Africa had deployed soldiers to Lesotho – whose number he would not specify for security reasons — while troops from Angola and Mozambique were yet to make their way to the mountain Kingdom.

Apart from quelling any possible coup attempt by disgruntled soldiers, the standby force is meant to provide security during the implementation of SADC-mandated multi-sectoral reforms which encompass the military.

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A SADC Ministerial Double Troika fact-finding mission – which was in Lesotho last Thursday – was expected to submit its findings to the bloc’s chairperson and South African President Jacob Zuma ahead of the summit.

Led by Angolan Foreign Affairs Minister, Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, the fact-finding mission conducted an assessment of the security situation in Lesotho and held meetings with key stakeholders in the country “in order to establish the root causes of the assassination and subsequently recommend the appropriate courses of action”.

The Double Troika Summit is composed of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Angola. It is mandated with providing member states with direction regarding threats to peace, security and stability in the region.

Mr Makgothi said the summit will start with a ministerial committee meeting in which the government will make a presentation.

The minister added: “A battalion is made up of 300 to 400 troops. There are three countries that are participating; Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. Zambia will also lend a helping hand.”

He stated that South African troops were already in the country as an advance mission although he would not reveal their number.

However, Lesotho’s request for an entire battalion suggests that the current deployment by South Africa could be miniscule and may not be strong enough to counter efforts by those bent on destabilising the new coalition government, as it moves to implement SADC reforms, as exemplified in the brazen murder of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.

It was confirmed last week that Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was shot by Brigadier Sechele after the late commander explained to him and Colonel Hashatsi why he could not halt police investigations of LDF members accused of committing atrocities as the investigations were in line with SADC recommendations.

The Lesotho Times understands that a viable presence of SADC troops would embolden Dr Thabane’s coalition into implementing all the SADC reforms including holding those responsible for past atrocities accountable.

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