THE family of slain army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao has cautiously welcomed the impending exit of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, saying it was merely the first step in a long journey towards granting them justice.
Lt-Gen Mahao was shot dead as he left his Mokema farm on 25 June 2015 by soldiers who had come to arrest him on allegations that he was part of a group of soldiers plotting to overthrow the army leadership.
However, Lt-Gen Mahao’s family has accused the army of killing him in cold blood basing on the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.
After the killing, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili asked SADC to help establish the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, resulting in a Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana.
The 10-member commission carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.
It also recommended that “Lt Gen Kamoli be relieved of his duties as commander of the LDF in the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation and officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason be suspended while investigations in their cases proceed in line with international best practice”.
A public notice released this week by the Government Secretary Lebohang Ramohlanka stated that Lt-Gen Kamoli would leave office on December 1.
He is expected to hand over the reins to his deputy, Major-General Khoantle Motšomotšo following the completion of negotiations with government on his retirement in line with the Lesotho Defence Force Act No. 4 of 1996 section 23 (2).
However, family spokesperson Lehloenya Mahao this week told the Lesotho Times his exit was “just part one and the removal of all other soldiers implicated in his killing will create a conducive environment for the investigations into his killing to take place”.
“The Prime Minister had earlier said they would not implement the Inquiry’s recommendations in their entirety and the removal of the army commander is one of those that they said would not see the light of day,” Mr Mahao said, adding that the fact that the removal was only be carried out now after several months was an indication of the “long journey we have ahead of us”.
He said the long delay in acting on the recommendations suggested the government did not want to remove Lt Gen Kamoli and only did so because of mounting pressure from local and international development partners.
“Government was asked to make a road map on how they were going to be implementing the reforms but there was a lot of hesitation.
“After Swaziland (SADC summit in August), they have started implementing and said he will be stepping down and they are negotiating with him. But this is contrary to what we saw when the former Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana and Lt Gen Mahao were fired by the Prime Minister within a space of seven days following their receipt of show cause letters.
“With Lt-Gen Kamoli there has been a lot of hesitation on the part of government to remove him,” Mr Mahao said.
He said the move could have been prompted by the recent visit of US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield who mounted pressure on government to implement reforms as a precondition to retain its eligibility for the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Tens of thousands of jobs would be lost if the country is kicked out of AGOA.
Mr Mahao said it was imperative for government to follow up Lt Gen Kamoli’s exit with the implementation of all outstanding SADC recommendations including the removal of other soldiers implicated in Mahao’s killing.
“Police said the army denied them access to make investigations. And we believe if that group is removed, the investigations will take place,” Mr Mahao said.
He said the Mahao family believed that the team of 25 police officers and 25 soldiers leading the investigations into Mahao’s killing could have been compromised as they had received training from some of the soldiers suspected in his killing.
“We reject (SADC facilitator Cyril) Ramaphosa’s endorsement of these investigators as we believe that they were compromised the day some of the soldiers implicated in the killing of our son were brought in as their trainers.
“We are also aware that the proposed amnesty bill is an attempt by government to absolve the soldiers who should be prosecuted for the killing,” Mr Mahao said.
The Amnesty Bill 2016 is still being drafted by Defence and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi. If passed into law, the bill would see members of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police, National Security Service, Lesotho Correctional Service, government officials and “any other person” being granted amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015.
The amnesty would extend to members of the LDF whom the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability had recommended should face prosecution.
Mr Mahao said although there were several obstacles, the family was prepared to do everything to ensure justice was delivered.
“We have been told that the Director of Public Prosecutions will determine whether there is a case against the soldiers implicated in the killing and should he give the nod, government is already preparing the amnesty bill to free the suspects.
But we are ready to face such man-made hiccups aimed at denying us justice and absolve the killers,” he said.