New Army Chief Speaks
…deplores the LDF’s past role in causing instability
…vows to submit army to civilian authority
NEWLY-APPOINTED army commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Exavery Letsoela, has outlined his vision to reform the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and submit it to civilian authority.
The LDF, under its former commander Tlali Kennedy Kamoli, had gone rogue and plunged Lesotho into turmoil. But Lt-Gen said all that will now change and the LDF will now transform into a professional force that safeguards the interests of the nation.
In an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times, his first since his appointment, at his Ratjomose Barracks offices this week, the new army commander strongly deplored the events of the past four years in which high ranking members of the LDF fomented instability through attacks on the police, assassinations as well as murders of civilians.
He said it was time the LDF turned a new leaf and submitted itself to civilian authority in line with the country’s constitution and norms of all democratic societies.
He condemned as an “illegal operation’’ the August 30, 2014 attempted coup on the first government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane which saw the LDF raiding and seizing arms from several police stations.
Lt-Gen Letsoela was on 23 January, 2018 appointed army commander as the government intensified efforts to transform the security cluster in line with recommendations of an inquiry by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
Lt-Gen Kamoli was arrested last year and remains in custody over various murder and attempted murder charges.
His time at the helm of the LDF effectively saw the army converting into a rogue militia after attempting a coup on the first government of Dr Thabane in August 2014.
Under Kamoli, the LDF also gained international notoriety over assassinations and attempted assassinations of key political, military and civilian figures including the ghastly killing of former commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, in June 2015. Dr Thabane alongside two other opposition leaders in his current coalition, Basotho National Party Leader Thesele Maseribane and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL)’s Keketso Rantšo fled into exile leaving the country with no opposition leaders at that time as all the other parties in parliament were in Dr Mosisili’s coalition.
Lt-Gen Kamoli and several former LDF officers are now in detention over various atrocities including the attempted murder of the editor of this newspaper, Lloyd Mutungamiri, the bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former Police Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
None of the soldiers involved in the atrocities had been prosecuted under the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven party coalition regime which seemingly gave the greenlight for Lt-Gen Kamoli and his acolytes to persist on their murderous streak until it lost the June 3 snap elections to Dr Thabane. Lt-Gen Kamoli had been forcibly retired from the LDF in December 2016 as international outrage grew over his atrocities and America had threatened to expel Lesotho out of the AGOA trade pact unless a SADC recommendation to remove him from the LDF was implemented. After his removal, Lt-Gen Kamoli was allegedly given a back-hand role in the security cluster and continued to receive privileges including state bodyguards until Dr Thabane came to power and ended it all.
In the interview with this newspaper this week, Lt Gen Letsoela acknowledged that the LDF had gone off the rails during the period from 2014. It now needed to “speedily return to the right track”.
He said his vision was to re-align and reform the LDF so that it becomes an institution that clearly understands democracy, civil and military relations in which the army “respectfully and willingly submitted to civilian authority without rebellion”.
“We were at a situation where one could say we were off track and we should now speedily come back to the right track,” Lt Gen Letsoela said.
“We are facing challenges in our quest to see the establishment of a stable system of good governance based on the rule of law according to the precepts of Lesotho’s constitution.
“It is my vision to see the LDF respectfully submitting to civil authority without rebellion. We have to understand that there is civilian authority over any army and that will help us appreciate the importance of rule of law, proper governance and development.”
He said the conflict with the police which resulted in the August 2014 raids on police stations and the seizure of their weapons should be replaced by a new era of cooperation among the security forces.
“As the newly-appointed military command, we should improve efficiency in the LDF management of resources and enhance collaboration within the security cluster in the country. For example, we no longer want to see the police, soldiers, correctional service officers and national intelligence officers fighting each other.
“We need security institutions that plan, budget and strategise together for the purpose of transparency and accountability.”
He revealed that weapons seized from the police during the 30 August, 2014 raids would soon be officially handed back to the police.
He also said the allocation of arms and ammunition to different army units would be closely monitored through a tracking system for the purposes of control, audit and accountability.
In its recent report ahead of the 2 December 2017 deployment of its standby force to Lesotho, SADC had warned that there were missing arms of war that could be used by rogue soldiers to launch reprisal attacks to thwart efforts to hold them accountable for past transgressions.
SADC said there were arms of war and ammunition missing from the armory of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) as well as heavy AK47 rifles that had disappeared from the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS). Also missing were the arms confiscated by the LDF from the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) during the August 2014 coup attempt.
However, Lt-Gen Letsoela said in the aftermath of the 5 September, 2017 assassination of army commander, Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo, the LDF had conducted an independent audit and “90 percent of the arms and ammunition were accounted for although there were some discrepancies”.
He said the remaining weapons were either in the custody of police as exhibits in criminal cases while others could not be accounted for due to poor record keeping.
“The audit is ongoing because of failure to trace some of the arms but working together with police, we hope to find them”.
Lt Gen Letsoela emphasized the need for the LDF to be fully accountable and respectful in its behaviour towards civilians.
He said soldiers could not just wake up one day and claim to have conducted an operation in which they massacre civilians who looked up to them for protection.
“We (soldiers) can’t just wake up, strangle people and throw them in dams and not account for our deeds,” he said in reference to the May 2017 incident wherein three men were killed by LDF officers and their bodies were thrown into the Mohale Dam. The bodies had since retrieved and the soldiers responsible arrested.
“As a state security institution, we have to fully account for our actions, operations and programmes,” he said, adding, “The national assembly through their portfolio committees should be active and pressure us to adhere to democratic principles”.
“The soldiers should have transparent financial reports and never hide behind claims that security issues are sensitive. They must report and account for money spent.
“The civil society must be informed about activities of the army that attract public interest to avoid negative perceptions. When everything is in the right direction then every activity that is in the public interest should be open for the public to know.”
He said the army should never be involved in shady dealings which then forces it to hide and become defensive. It should always act in the public interest.