Police probe threats to US envoy

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UNITED States Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington
UNITED States Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington

’Marafaele Mohloboli

POLICE are investigating a case in which United States Ambassador to Lesotho Matthew Harrington expressed concern about his safety after an official from one of the seven governing parties described the diplomat as a “terrorist”.

Bokang Ramatšella, who is a member of one of the factions of the Lesotho People’s Congress, has accused Mr Harrington of being a “terrorist bent on destabilising Lesotho” on various media platforms.

Maseru Urban District Commissioner Motlatsi Mapola yesterday confirmed the investigation, saying Mr Harrington had reported the issue to the police and raised concerns about his security due to the remarks.

“I am directly dealing with a matter in which Ambassador Harrington has complained that his security has been compromised by the remarks. We are currently investigating the matter, and once we are done, the police will open a case against Ramatšella.”

Senior Superintendent Mapola said he held a lengthy discussion on the issue with the Acting US Ambassador to Lesotho Randald Dernnett. Mr Harrington is currently on leave in the US.

“We discussed a lot of issues pertaining to his security and that of Basotho in general,” he said.

Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane told the Lesotho Times yesterday Mr Harrington had expressed concerns about his safety due to Mr Ramatšella’s utterances.

“The ambassador told me he was going on leave and would return after some time as his mother is not feeling well. He also said it was not right for Ramatšella to be making such utterances,” said Mr Sekhamane.

“He pleaded with the government to intervene and reprimand Ramatšella so he can stop making the threats.”

Mr Ramatšella’s vitriolic remarks also drew the ire of the main opposition party All Basotho convention (ABC), which called on the coalition government to pronounce itself on the American envoy.

In a press release issued on Friday last week, the ABC also apologised to Mr Harrington and the US government on behalf of Basotho.

Contacted for comment, a defiant Mr Ramatšella said he would not retract his statements.

“I repeat and maintain that Harrington is a terrorist. Since coming to Lesotho, he has been saying there is no rule of law in this country, yet many people are dying in large numbers in his country. That’s hypocrisy,” he said.

“It is clear that Harrington and the ABC are birds of a feather since they flock together by always saying the same things. The ABC is like a dog that has lost its trail. They have lost their political track hence they are always seeking sympathy from foreigners.”

Mr Ramatšella said the warning by the diplomat that Lesotho risked losing trade and aid preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) were “terrorist statements”.

Earlier this month, Mr Harrington insisted Lesotho would only continue to benefit from AGOA and MCC after taking “concrete actions” that address concerns about “impunity and the rule of law” as well as implementing recommendations made by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry.

Among the recommendations of the inquiry was the removal of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, and criminal investigations into the death of former army chief Maaparankoe Mahao.

“Harrington is always making terrorist statements like threatening to end AGOA and MCC if the commander of the LDF is not removed. That’s terrorism,” Mr Ramatšella charged.

“Terrorism is defined as instilling fear and violence, and this is what Harrington has been doing. His utterances are always against the government of the day and meant to destabilise our coalition.”

He said the envoy’s mandate “was to work in harmony with the government and not against it as he is doing”. Mr Ramatšella also took issue with Mr Harrington’s reference to the former army commander who was killed by his colleagues allegedly while resisting arrest on 25 June 2015.

“We can’t deny that Mahao was killed, but his death was not politically-motivated. He died a brigadier and there is a gazette to that effect. However, each time Harrington refers to Mahao’s killing he calls him general. By so doing, he is under-mining our authority and government,” he said.

“If I have erred in bringing up these issues and insulted Harrington and the US government, let them take me to court. Harrington will never live in peace in my country unless he changes his behaviour.”

Attempts to get a comment from the US Embassy remained fruitless until the time of going to press.

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