Poopa given ambassadorial post

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…appointment greeted with mixed reactions

Pascalinah Kabi

FORMER acting army commander, Retired Major General Lineo Poopa, has been appointed Lesotho’s ambassador to Malaysia, a development that has been greeted with mixed reactions among the governing coalition partners.

Apart from Rtd Maj-Gen Poopa, other ambassadorial appointments are those of Basotho National Party (BNP) Women’s League President, Palesa Mosetse to Japan, former Minister of Trade and Industry, S’khulumi Ntsoale (Ireland), former Thaba-Bosiu Member of Parliament Boomo Sofonea (Canada) with Bothata Tsikoane being re-sent to India after his initial contract expired in 2016.

Foreign Affairs and International Relations Principal Secretary, Nkopane Monyane, this week told the Lesotho Times that – as per standard practice – all the appointments were conditional upon approval of the appointees by the receiving countries.

“We have sent requests to the countries where the five individuals are going to be posted and we have not received any responses as yet,” Mr Monyane said, adding that they hoped for responses by next week.

Of the five, it is the appointment of Rtd Maj Gen Poopa that has become a talking point among members of the four party coalition government namely the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the Basotho National Party (BNP), the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

Sources close to the developments told this publication that Rtd Maj Gen Poopa’s appointment was a “reward for working well with the government” to execute the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s recommendations concerning the arrest and prosecution of army officers suspected of committing serious crimes during the tenure of former commander, Tlali Kamoli.

Rtd Maj Gen Poopa was appointed acting commander following the 5 September 2017 assassination of Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo who was gunned down by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi at his Ratjomose Barracks offices in Maseru.

Even though Dr Thabane appointed Maj Gen Poopa as acting commander in the wake of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s assassination, sources said that Maj Gen Poopa was never going to be confirmed into becoming substantive head of the LDF.

This was because his name had loomed large in some of the Kamoli era atrocities. Maj Gen Poopa’s name looms large in Lt-Gen Kamoli’s attempted coup of 30 August 2014 during which the LDF raided police stations, seized arms and killed police officer Sub Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko.

Maj-Gen Poopa is also suspected of having a hand in the escape of   former National Security Service (NSS) head, Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, whom the police wanted to interrogate. Col Lekhooa is alleged to have fled the country and has not been seen or heard of since.  It is understood that the police had appealed to Maj-Gen Poopa to assist in the arrest of Tumo Lekhooa to no avail.

However, his cooperation with the Thabane administration was fully acknowledged by the government and early this month  – at the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) change of command ceremony – Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, intimated that although he had been retired from the army, a new appointment awaited him  for having “behaved well” during his time in charge of the LDF.

“It will be remiss of me not to thank Maj Gen Lineo Poopa for ensuring that the barracks remained calm and safe as you promised you would on that fateful day of September 5th 2017 when you and I were in the office of the Right Honourable the Prime Minister.

“As you have seen in the past…. well-behaved Lesotho soldiers have been deployed to different positions in parliament or given national responsibilities to serve their country upon their retirement,” Mr Moleleki said.

The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence and National Security, Colonel Tanki Mothae (Retired), had also alluded to the re-deployment of Maj Gen Poopa when he told this publication in January this year that the latter was being retired pending redeployment elsewhere.

A senior BNP member who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity, because he is not allowed to speak to the press, welcomed Rtd Maj Gen Poopa’s appointment, saying it was a well-deserved reward for “working well with the current government on issues of handing over soldiers suspected of serious crimes to the police”.

The source said the appointment was based on precedence where former soldiers like Lt-Gen Makhula Mosakeng and Maj Gen Phisoane Ramaema were appointed to the Senate after they handed power to a democratically-elected government.

“Maj Gen Anthony Thibeli was also sent to China as ambassador as was the former Commissioner of Police, Jonase Malewa,” the source added.

ABC spokesperson Tefo Mapesela said he was not aware of Rtd Maj Gen Poopa’s appointment and referred all questions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because such appointments fell under the ambit of “government policy and not political party issues”.

However, the appointment does not appear to have been well-received by some members of the ABC, with one official saying, “We are setting a bad precedent that soldiers can commit crimes and later work hard to wash themselves off the sins of the past”.

The source further alleged that there were many deserving ABC, BNP, AD and RCL members who could have been appointed instead of Maj Gen Poopa.

For his part, the BNP spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, said while there would always be different opinions in any coalition government, the most important thing was to ultimately achieve consensus.

“It is very important to gauge the public opinion in our current political climate especially from the masses that voted the current government into power.

“What ought to have been done was to put this (issue of the appointments) into the public domain and the reaction of the populace would have given the government an informed position on the matter,” Mr Mofomobe said.

He however, said that each partner in the coalition government had its own stake in terms of appointments to ministries and embassies, adding it was important for coalition partners to respect other partners’ choices once a decision on an appointment to a particular post is made.

“I don’t think we should cry over this matter when one party has made a decision. So I think if ABC, AD or RCL has nominated him (Rtd Maj Gen Poopa), we should respect that. We don’t have any powers to question our partner because it is their call,” Mr Mofomobe said.

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