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Mutiny soldiers mull suing army over compensation

by Lesotho Times
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…the compensation claims are as high as M1 million per soldier

Pascalinah Kabi

A STORM is said to brewing in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) amid indications that some soldiers are mulling legal action against the army over its alleged refusal to compensate them for the suffering they endured during the command of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.

Among other things, the army officers want to be compensated for what they call “stop of pay, affected funding for their insurance, investments and loans which lapsed or remained unpaid”.

This refers to compensation for the cessation of their salaries during the time they were hounded out of the army. They further state that they should also be compensated for the loss of their property after their families were forced to leave the army barracks after they fled persecution.

The soldiers have since prepared a document which recommends, among other things, that “compensation for victims for the suffering caused be considered as one of the means to afford healing”.

Their demands are contained in a document titled ‘Report on victimisation of members of the Lesotho Defence Force in the Period 2014 to 2017’.

At least 22 soldiers were arrested, detained and tortured between May and July 2015 on charges of plotting to topple the command of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli.

Fourteen of the soldiers were also tortured in detention and forced to become state witnesses against 22 of their colleagues who were subsequently placed on open arrest during the tenure of the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led government.

Another 23 soldiers fled the country and only returned towards the end of last year. This followed the advent of the Thomas Thabane-led four parties’ coalition government in the wake of the 3 June 2017 national elections.

The soldiers were accused of working in cahoots with former army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, who was later shot dead by fellow soldiers in June 2015 while allegedly resisting arrest in Mokema.

A Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry was established in the aftermath of Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder and it found that there was no mutiny plot and recommended an amnesty for the suspected mutineers. It also recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.

The suspected mutineers were however, not granted an amnesty and the-then government led by Pakalitha Mosisili opted to place 22 of the soldiers on open arrest.

The 45 former mutiny suspects returned to the LDF and they were reintegrated into the army in February this year.

Some of the former suspects like Major General Matela Matobakele and Major General Poqa Motoa now serve as Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff for Administration and Human Resources Affairs respectively.

The soldiers’ document was compiled by three soldiers only identified as Captain Ramotšo, Second Lieutenant Mohasi and Second Lieutenant Talasi. They were assisted by five other soldiers and the document was “approved” by one Colonel Kolisang.

The soldiers state that issues relating to their persecution under the command of Lt-Gen Kamoli must be handled with caution “to restore the respect to the LDF and confidence in Lesotho as a nation state”.

“The country is in the process of healing and least desires to be injured again. The healing for injuries done, physically, emotionally and spiritually requires that each (victim) receives the correct treatment. It is required that a further careful assessment of the type of injury and healing prescribed be established,” part of the report states.

“From these, there are also those whose properties left in the houses have been removed and unaccounted for. The conditions created by the LDF that caused the fleeing of the officers and soldiers brought immeasurable damage to family bonds between fathers and children, as well as between spouses.

“The conditions that these members were subjected to under the direct sanctions of (the-then) command has caused them grave emotional, physical and psychological suffering.”

“In consideration of the issues raised from the narratives discussed in this report, recommendations are professed as follows:

“A formal inquiry be conducted and appropriate measures be implemented in relation to atrocities that rocked the LDF in the period 2014 to 2017…

“That the command should consider the discrepancy caused by the anomalous promotions that have purposefully created barriers in some ranks and that the condition be corrected as far as in possible; that the LDF policies be reactivated and be used to guide matters to which they apply in order to normalise intended purposes.

“That counselling be facilitated for the affected members and families; that compensations for victims for the suffering caused be considered as one of the means to afford healing and that realignment of units implicated in atrocities be considered to rid group mentality towards issues,” the soldiers state in the document.

The Lesotho Times further heard that the soldiers are now accusing Lt-Gen Letsoela of refusing to sign off their claims for compensation because “the amounts are too large” as the claims are as high as M1 million per soldier.

Some sources close to the developments this week told this publication said they had a legitimate expectation to be compensated for the torture and emotional suffering inflicted on them by the previous army command.

“We have been cleared of the wrongdoing that we were accused of and we have been reinstated into the army. The reinstatement is however not enough as those who were in exile were not receiving their salaries and those who were in custody suffered serious bodily harm.

“We put in our claims but the commander is not signing them. It has been months since they were submitted to his office,” said one source, adding some of the soldiers had since instructed their lawyers to file lawsuits against the army for compensation.

Further inquiries by this publication with some of the lawyers revealed that the lawyers had indeed received briefs from their clients to file lawsuits.

“I cannot discuss confidential issues of my clients with the media but I can only tell you that I have received an instruction to that effect,” one lawyer said.

But in an interview with this publication yesterday, LDF public relations officer Lieutenant Colonel Mashili Mashili denied allegations that the commander was refusing to sign off the compensation claims, saying “that issue of compensation was not on the agenda of the commander”.

“He (commander) is given a mandate by the government but this issue of compensation has not been on his agenda. He has not been given a mandate to deal with issues of compensation and to him this does not exist because he knows nothing about it.

“He has probably heard of it being discussed on social media but he does not even know the amounts of the monies being claimed because this is a non-issue,” Lt-Col Mashili said, adding that the compensation issue was probably raised with the government and not the army.

He said that it was important for people to understand that the LDF did not have a budget to compensate the soldiers.

“Remember the army is submissive to the civilian authority. Do you think the government would assign the commander to deal with this thing and the commander would say no I am not dealing with it? I really don’t think so. There is no way a submissive commander would defy the orders of the civilian authority. It means he has not been given a directive to deal with this matter of compensation.

“Facts will guide me. I have never come across this issue (of compensation) officially. I have just heard of it on social media and I do not rely on social media,” Lt-Mashili said.

He said the only thing that the army was currently doing to assist the soldiers was organising ongoing counselling sessions to help heal their wounds.

“Even the criteria might be complicated because this is the first time, we would have come across a situation that needs compensation. If it (compensation) is on the table, maybe the commander is trying to wrap his head around it because it is new in the history of the LDF. We have never had so many soldiers fleeing or affected by the conflicts. It happened in 1998 but the number was not this high and I don’t remember the compensation issue being raised and since this is a new issue altogether, it may happen that it will take long before it comes up,” Lt-Col Mashili said.

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