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Opposition warns of ‘bloodbath’

by Lesotho Times
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Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

THE opposition alliance has called on the government to “come to its senses” by speedily implementing the SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations and releasing the 16 “innocent” solders detained at Maseru Maximum Security Prison for alleged mutiny.

The alliance, comprising the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), also warned the prevailing political instability could degenerate into a “bloodbath” if the “arrogant” government did not heed their advice.

Addressing a press conference in Maseru yesterday, ABC deputy leader Tlali Khasu, spokesperson Tefo Mapesela and RCL secretary-general ’Mamolula Ntabe, accused the government of “dragging its feet” in implementing recommendations of the Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi-led SADC Commission of Inquiry.

The 10-member Commission of legal and security experts probed Lesotho’s security and political challenges following the fatal shooting of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015. The probe was held between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and recommended the dismissal of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli and the return of exiled opposition leaders among others.

According to Mr Khasu, who said they were speaking on behalf of the three parties despite the absence of BNP members from the conference, the government was presiding over a growing political crisis due to its “refusal” to implement the inquiry’s recommendations.

“The nation is facing a serious crisis under the present administration of the seven political parties. Ntate (Pakalitha) Mosisili’s government is obviously refusing to address issues of grave concern to Basotho,” he said.

“This government has failed to implement the SADC recommendations into the political instability of this country up to now.”

Mr Khasu said the seven-party coalition had failed to ensure the safe return of ABC leader Thomas Thabane, BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and RCL leader Keketso Rantšo, who fled to South Africa in May last year saying their lives were in danger from members of the military.

“Our leaders and other citizens of this country have been in exile following serious threats to their lives, but this government has ignored that. Even after the recommendation by SADC that Ntate Mosisili’s government should facilitate the safe return of our people, this government has persistently ignored it.”

The Peka Constituency MP also accused the government of “unlawfully” detaining soldiers accused of mutiny and “torturing” them. The LDF arrested 23 soldiers last year for allegedly plotting to overthrow the army command. However, seven of the soldiers have since been released from detention and placed under open arrest, with the LDF members’ trial continuing before the Court Martial.

“It is quite unfortunate that the government seems to be condoning the torture that those soldiers are being subjected to. We are reliably informed that the detained soldiers are sometimes denied meals. Yet the Defence Minister (Tšeliso Mokhosi) had the temerity to come to parliament this week and claim that it is not true. He is condoning such callous behaviour.”

He added the government should not act as if it would be in power forever, saying they may “soon” wind up in the opposition and needing to form new alliances.

“The current political spectrum requires that parties treat each other well because they need each other due to the electoral model we have adopted. You may be in power today but soon you will need me to form government. Gone are the days when a single party could form government by itself,” the ABC deputy leader said.

Ms Ntabe echoed the sentiments, saying the government’s stance was putting the support Lesotho received from development partners such as America’s Millennium Challenge Corporation and African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in jeopardy.

The Americans expressed “serious concerns” about the government’s alleged failure to adhere to AGOA’s governance criteria in April this year, saying they would monitor the implementation of reforms ahead of the next eligibility review process.

“By now, Ntate Mosisili should at least be in a position to give us a clear roadmap or plan of action regarding how the government will implement the SADC inquiry recommendations. The prime minister is taking us for granted,” she said.

“As we speak, some international development partners have threatened to withhold their support to Lesotho pending a resolution to the current political impasse.

“They want us to resolve our issues, but it doesn’t look like the government is listening. It is a pity that Basotho at grassroots level are the ones suffering. All the government does is sideline the opposition on critical issues that require our input. Whenever foreign dignitaries are here, we are barred from meeting them as the opposition. What is this government hiding?”

Mr Mapesela chipped in by also slamming the government for allegedly failing to ensure the safety of opposition members, which he said had forced some of them to join their colleagues in exile.

“Our people are receiving death threats from all corners for exposing some authorities on radio for their wrongdoings. They have now been forced to flee to South Africa,” he said.

“The situation is just so volatile it could lead to a bloodbath if it is not quickly addressed. The anger of Basotho whose relatives are being subjected to gruesome treatment by those in power is growing.”

The ABC spokesperson also accused the government of vesting Dr Mosisili with “excessive” powers through the Local Government Elections Amendment Bill of 2016. The Bill seeks to transfer the right to determine the election date from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to the premier.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi scoffed at the allegations saying they were “unfounded lies” meant to mislead Basotho.

Mr Letsatsi, who is also the government spokesperson, said: “Those people have nothing to do except to come up with unfounded lies against the government.

“It is not true that the government is doing nothing about the SADC inquiry recommendations. The government has made a lot of effort to deal with those recommendations. Soon they will realise that.

“The allegations of excessive powers being given to the Prime Minister are also untrue because we are simply doing what other countries have done by leaving the IEC with its main mandate of administering elections.

“The IEC is not supposed to be burdened with issues of calling the date of elections. Their role is to administer the elections at the time they have been called by the Prime Minister or the King. That is also standard practice in other countries.”

Mr Letsatsi would not be drawn to comment on the issue of the detained soldiers, saying Mr Mokhosi had already denied allegations they had been abused.

“He (Mr Mokhosi) issued a statement dismissing those unfounded allegations about the soldiers being denied food. The opposition is just spreading lies to confuse Basotho,” he said.

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