…regional body refuses to extend mandate any further
Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops, seconded to Lesotho to help stabilize the country, will finally leave in less than two weeks after the regional body refused to entertain any further requests to extend their tenure.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had pleaded with his regional peers at the last SADC summit in Windhoek, Namibia, in August 2018, to have the tenure of the troops extended by at least another three months to enable them to continue keeping the peace in the country while all those responsible for past atrocities are arraigned to face their comeuppance in courts of law.
However, authoritative sources said SADC had resolved not to extend the tenure of the troops or the SADC Standby Force, which will now leave on 20 November 2018, or exactly 12 days from today.
The SADC forces were informed about their pull-out at a recent conference attended by military personnel from the countries that contributed troops to the Standby Force, namely Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A senior Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) official said the now reformed LDF under the command of Lt Gen Mojalefa Letsoela was “ready and able” to deal with any “malcontents” who may want to take advantage of the void created by the departure of the SADC troops to create mayhem in the country.
“We are ready to thwart any elements who may want to see the departure of the SADC troops as a license to renew their past anarchy….That will not be tolerated…We will deal with any such elements mercilessly,” said the LDF official speaking on condition of anonymity because he had no clearance to speak to the press.
“Even though efforts have been made to cleanse the LDF of (Lt. Gen Tlali) Kamoli’s anarchical followers, this is a process that cannot be completed overnight… However any such elements inside and outside the LDF must be clearly warned that their period of impunity is over and they will be dealt with severely should they try to create chaos in the country….,” the LDF official said.
The Standby Force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL), was unveiled in the country on 2 December 2017. It is made of 207 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 12 civilian experts.
The SADC force was essentially deployed to prevent rogue LDF soldiers from destabilising Dr Thabane’s coalition as it went about implementing SADC recommended reforms to curb perennial instability in the Kingdom.
The reforms include holding the scalawag LDF members accountable for their past atrocities and helping mould the LDF into a professional force via some targeted re-training. Former LDF commander Tlali Kamoli has himself been languishing in remand prison for about a year over a plethora of atrocities he spearheaded.
The Standby Force was also meant to help in the investigations of the 5 September, 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi as well as the earlier killing of another LDF boss, Maaparankoe Mahao, among other tasks, work that has been done and completed.
The SADC sources told the Lesotho Times that the conference convened in Lesotho by the Standby Force contributing countries did not deliberate on whether or not to extend the mission which was initially scheduled to end in May this year before it was extended to November.
“The message was loud and clear that the troops will be pulled out,” said one source, adding that Angola, which had contributed the biggest number of troops, had already started dismantling some of its temporary infrastructure in preparation for the withdrawal.
“The conference was merely to prepare for the pull out of the mission,” another source said, meaning Lesotho’s pleas for an extension had been rebuffed.
“There was a very specific agenda (at the participating countries’ conference) which was withdrawal of the mission. Anything outside that was not entertained. The agenda was so specific that it also had details of the exit parade slated for 20 November 2018.
“The general feeling among participating SADC members is that the security situation is calm. The decision to withdraw is also inspired by the fact that some of the participating members particularly Angola had long wanted to pull out. Angola even said it was not prepared to continue if the mission is extended.
“Angola was going to leave regardless. They had made it clear they want to leave whether or not the mission is extended.
“If at all the mission is extended, the feeling is that personnel must come from Zambia who are the chair of the security arm of SADC and Zimbabwe who deputise the Zambians,” the source said, adding that such a last minute extension was unlikely.
The Lesotho Times was informed last night that Prime Minister Thabane’s government was still making frantic efforts to have the tenure of the Standby Force extended. Foreign Minister Lesego Makgothi nevertheless refused to comment saying “I would rather reserve any comment”.
SAPMIL was initially deployed for a period of six months until May 2018 after which the mission was extended by a further six months to November 2018 to foster a conducive environment to help the country in implementing SADC’s recommended multi-sectoral reforms while pushing for the restoration of the rule of law.
The reforms were recommended by SADC in 2016 as part of measures to bring lasting peace and stability to the country.
The regional body’s recommendations were made in the aftermath of the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led SADC Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, by his army colleagues in 2015.
The regional body gave Lesotho until May 2019 to have fully implemented constitutional and security sector reforms but the process has been stalled by bickering between the government and the opposition with the later making a plethora of demands before it participates.
However, the impasse between the two sides seems to have finally been resolved after they signed a pledge committing to participating in the reforms process.
As part of the deal, the government agreed that former Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Mothetjoa Metsing, and other exiled leaders “will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the dialogue and reforms process”.
The government-opposition deal cleared the way for the return of Mr Metsing and other exiled leaders, now set for 25 November 2018. However, it remains to be seen whether Mr Metsing actually returns after a High Court interdict this week against a clause in the reforms deal offering politicians exemptions from prosecution (see story on Page 4) during the reforms process.
Regional leaders had already turned down Prime Minister Thabane’s request for an extension of SAPMIL by a further three months at the August 2018 Windhoek summit. It seems the Thabane coalition has not succeeded in altering that position despite spirited efforts.
SADC sources told the Lesotho Times that when the SADC leaders met in Namibia in August, Dr Thabane had issued an impassioned plea for the extension of SAPMIL. The Prime Minister had explained the rationale of wanting such an extension in detail.
However, his pleas were rejected by the SADC leaders who instead told the premier that it was high time Lesotho put its house in order and implemented the multi-sectoral reforms to achieve durable peace and stability in the Kingdom.
In their communique issued at the end of the August summit, the regional leaders stated that “the summit urged the government of Lesotho to put in place a programme with clear milestones for the implementation of priority activities on the reforms roadmap and national dialogue, while recognising that the SAPMIL and Oversight Committee tenures end in November 2018”.
Government spokesperson Nthakeng Selinyane referred all questions to the government secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, whose mobile rang unanswered.