The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force in Lesotho has taken a tough line on ill-discipline among its members, amid revelations that it recently sent home five Angolan soldiers.
Sources close to the SADC force also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) this week told the Lesotho Times that the five were expelled last month for various acts of indiscipline which included returning late to their areas of deployment after late night excursions where some of them were involved in partying and alcohol consumption.
“Five soldiers were sent back home in February and they have since been replaced by others from their home country of Angola,” one source said.
Last week, two soldiers were injured in a hit-and-run accident in Ha Foso in Maseru which claimed the life of a 36-year old Mosotho woman.
Another SAPMIL source said the two soldiers were likely to face disciplinary action upon their release from the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital where they are currently recuperating.
The source said SADC had decided to get tough to ensure high standards of discipline were maintained and the standby force acted professionally.
SAMPIL was deployed to Lesotho on 2 December 2017 as part of regional efforts to create a conducive environment for the implementation of constitutional, security sector, public service, media and governance reforms in line with the recommendations of the regional body.
SAPMIL- made of 207 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 12 civilian experts- was deployed to Lesotho in December 2017 to assist the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in managing the security crisis in the country in the aftermath of the 5 September, 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
According to SADC, one of the main objectives of the SADC deployment is to “assist in isolating renegade elements within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)”.
The standby force will also support Lesotho in retraining its army personnel, especially in the area of civil-military relations while working towards security sector and other institutional reforms.
Last November, SADC Oversight Committee Chairperson, Matias Bertino Matondo told the media that they had drawn up a “strong code of conduct” for the SADC Standby Force to avoid a repeat of past incidents where some SADC troops were accused of improper associations with locals, particularly women during their tour of duty in 1998.
“Our troops are being deployed with a concrete mandate and a very strong code of conduct because we don’t want things that happened in the past to happen again,” Dr Matondo said ahead of the 2 December 2017 deployment of the standby force.
He said the concerns over the past misdeeds of SADC forces had been raised by opposition parties and civil society organisations.
“That is why we are saying that this time around we are making sure that our troops behave the way they are supposed to behave, to uphold the highest standard of morality that is the hallmark of SADC.”
There had been some concerns in the country that there could be a repeat of the 1998 episode where some SADC troops reportedly lured local women into sexual liaisons in exchange for money and foodstuffs.
This followed the September 1998 deployment of 1000 SADC soldiers from South Africa and Botswana “to intervene militarily in Lesotho to prevent any further anarchy and to create a stable environment for the restoration of law and order”.
The instability which was caused by mutinous members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who seized arms and ammunition and expelled or imprisoned their commanding officers.
The soldiers took advantage of the dissatisfaction of some opposition political parties who refused to accept the results of the May 1998 parliamentary elections which gave the-then Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy Party, an overwhelming majority of 79 out of 80 seats.
Government vehicles were hijacked, the broadcasting station was closed, and the Prime Minister and other ministers were virtually held hostage.
The Lesotho police had lost control of the situation and the South African Defence Force feared that a military coup was being planned.
The SADC forces were deployed in key areas and communities of interest for eight months, and many of them were accused of giving money, foodstuffs like beef and peanuts in exchange for sex.