Maputsoe under siege

By Keiso Mohloboli

LERIBE — Some residents of Maputsoe, led by the Mem­ber of Parliament (MP) for the constituency ‘Mampho Mokhele are up in arms against the army after soldiers allegedly went on a rampage beating up innocent people over the festive period.

Reports from Maputsoe, the country’s second largest business centre after the capital Maseru, say members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) deployed there during the festive season brutally attacked scores of innocent resi­dents.

Mokhele said the soldiers assaulted ordinary members of the community for no apparent reason but the army, through its spokesperson Major Ntlele Ntoi, dismissed the claims as a smear campaign.
Ntoi said the soldiers had been deployed in all the ten districts of the country to work in collaboration with the police to stop crime during the festive season.

Maputsoe is notorious for gang attacks, especially dur­ing the festive season when many people are attacked and even murdered by members of a notorious criminal gang calling themselves “Ma-tycoon”.
The criminals waylay people on their way home, robbing them of money and valuables such as mobile phones and sometimes killing their victims for fear of being identified.
Most of the thugs patronise public bars in search of vic­tims.

So severe had the gang attacks become that Maput­soe was gradually becoming inhabitable as many people feared for their lives at the hands of “Ma-tycoon”.
Against this background soldiers were deployed in the region to assist police restore order.

This week the Lesotho Times heard about horrific ac­counts of ordinary residents as well as business persons from Maputsoe having been assaulted by soldiers while go­ing about their normal business during the festive season.

One Joel Konote claimed he was assaulted by soldiers who stormed a public bar where he was drinking “with my friends who work in the police force”.
“During the attack, the soldiers ordered the two police officers to vacate the room before they assaulted us (two other revellers and I) at will,” Konote said.
He said he broke a finger while trying to block the blows that were being delivered on him by the soldiers who “clobbered us with knobkerries”.

He said neither he nor any of his colleagues who were assaulted by the rogue soldiers belong to any criminal gang, so they were attacked “for no apparent reason”.
Bar owner Mahoete Mothae told this paper he was also assaulted by the soldiers on the weekend before

Christmas Day who ordered him to come out behind the counter from where he was serving his customers and then told him to lie down flat on his belly.

“When I asked them why I was being treated that way they never answered. Instead, they started beating me up with sticks,” Mothae said.

Mothae said he was forced to close the bar after the sol­diers left fearing they would return to assault him and his clients again.

He said the harassment, which began on De­cember 14, went on throughout the fes­tive break.
“They (soldiers) would flood the place carrying heavy guns and sticks around 1800 hours, beat up my customers and force me to close my business way before time,” Mothae said.
According to him, his trader’s li­cense allows him to operate the business up to midnight, but during the as­sault he was forced to close the bar as early as 2000 hours.

But Ntoi told the Lesotho Times that claims that soldiers were assaulting people were part of a propaganda initiative by the MP for Maputsoe, who appeared to have gone all out to tarnish the army’s integrity for reasons best known by herself.

Ntoi said that Mokhele had known about the notorious gangs for 11 years but failed to do anything about it when she was the District Police Officer for Mafeteng.
“In her tenure, Mafeteng resembled to­day’s Maputsoe wherein the lives of young Famo artistes were brutally cut short.

“We saw terrible deaths take place in the district under her watch so we are not going to let that happen in Maputsoe,” Ntoi said.

He lambasted Mokhele’s community po­licing tactics saying that “they failed dis­mally”.
Meanwhile, he said that the LDF was pleased with the operations in Maputsoe and elsewhere because through them a lot of lives had been saved.

Ntoi said the LDF was in the process of bringing order back to the troubled town, adding however that there may have been shortcomings in the process but that they had been trying hard to bring sanity back to Maputsoe.
According to Ntoi, the LDF officers “would not go there and caress ‘Ma-tycoon’ and criminal gangsters with velvet gloves”.

He also assured Basotho that the com­munity of Maputsoe was satisfied with the security provided by the LDF during the festive season “with the exception of Mokhele” who he said he wondered “if she could be satisfied to witness a bloodbath in Maputsoe”.

Ntoi urged Mokhele to stop misleading people about the army’s actions since the soldiers had been dispatched to secure the community not to hurt people because “we are not rebels; we cannot just go around at­tacking people”.

However, Mokhele refuted Ntoi’s claims saying in her tenure as police chief she had worked tirelessly to maintain peace in Maf­eteng.

She said she was actually surprised that Ntoi was not aware that she had even re­ceived accolades from the Famo music fra­ternity for her efforts to restore peace in Mafeteng.

“Prime Minister Thomas Motsoahae Thabane was the then Minister of Com­munications, Science and Technology when I was recognised for a job well done by Mafeteng Famo musicians,” Mokhele said.
Mokhele said Ntoi’s comments incrimi­nated her as a person, adding “I am not a criminal and will not support criminals. He has never been here to witness his col­leagues beating up innocent people. I still maintain that it is not fair.”

The MP said while she agrees, “Ma-tycoon” and other gangsters should be arrested and disciplined for the crimes they commit, “it is unfair to beat up inno­cent people who are not involved with the gangs”.
Meanwhile a police officer who did not want to be identified said the deployment of soldiers in the town was for a good cause as the gangsters were slowly taking over Maputsoe.

“These gangs are dangerous because they kill people and take away their valu­ables and money,” he said.
He however deplored the fact that the soldiers had gone on a rampage beating up people without verifying if they were linked to criminal gangs.

Meanwhile Molobeli Soulo, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said he was not in a position to respond to claims of soldiers’ brutality as he had not received such reports.

Comments are closed.