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SADC warns of rogue soldiers

by Lesotho Times
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Pascalinah Kabi

A confidential report by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has warned that missing arms of war could be used by rogue soldiers to launch reprisal attacks as efforts to hold them accountable for past transgressions intensify, raising the specter of heightened instability in Lesotho.

The regional body has recommended the compilation of an inventory of all existing and missing arms from the State armory to address the missing gaps.

The confidential report, obtained by the Lesotho Times this week, was compiled ahead of the much anticipated deployment of SADC troops to foster a conducive atmosphere for the implementation of the regional body’s recommendations to secure the country’s long term stability.

The report speaks of arms of war and ammunition missing from the armory of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) as well as heavy AK47 rifles that had disappeared from the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS).  Also missing are the arms confiscated by the LDF from the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) during a coup attempt on 30 August 2014 when the army raided and seized arms from police stations around Maseru.

It is suspected that all these arms are in the possession of rogue elements of the LDF who might want to use them to launch reprisal attacks, heightening instability in the Kingdom.

Even though there is a semblance of stability since Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was returned to power in the June 3 2017 elections, the report nonetheless warns of the possibility of “reprisal attacks and other acts of instability” due to residual tensions and deeply rooted divisions among the government, opposition parties and the security sector, especially the army which SADC accused of continuing to harbour “rogue soldiers”.   Already former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has condemned the deployment of SADC troops saying Basotho must resolve their own problems.

SADC’s observations and warnings are contained in the report compiled ahead of its deployment of a regional standby force to Lesotho. The deployment is now expected to begin on Saturday, 23 May 2017, once logistical arrangements have been completed. The deployment has been postponed umpteen times.

The 258 strong standby force comprising of 207 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 12 civilian experts is being deployed to Lesotho on a mandate of “creating a sufficiently secure, stable and peaceful environment conducive for the rule of law necessary for the implementation of the security sector reforms and the recommendations of the SADC”.

Their deployment was agreed on by SADC leaders 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.

The report titled “Draft integrated mission plan for the deployment of the contingent mission to the Kingdom of Lesotho,” states that 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.

Furthermore, the SADC force will “monitor the investigation of the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, prioritise and expeditiously assist in the operationalisation of national unity and reconciliation dialogue with a clear approach, to be facilitated by SADC, whereby the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission may be considered”.

The report says SADC was recently briefed by its Lesotho Oversight Committee Deputy Chairperson, Brigadier General Vuyisile Radebe, who noted that beneath the veneer of the current “seemingly stable security situation,” in the country, lay serious tensions which had the potential to lead to renewed instability in the country.

Such tensions were the product of various factors including mistrust and deep-seated divisions between the government and the opposition parties. The LDF which continued to harbour rogue soldiers was another source of instability, the report said.

“Currently, the political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho is relatively calm,” reads part of the report.

“This notwithstanding, the likelihood of reprisal attacks and other acts of instability cannot be ruled out given the residual tensions and deep rooted mistrust amongst politicians and divisions among the security establishments specifically (in) the LDF.”

The situation in Lesotho, SADC states, is seemingly stable only because the rogue soldiers are “conscious of the impending deployment of the SADC contingency force”.

SADC also believes that the rogue elements within the LDF could be the ones in possession of all the arms and ammunition missing from the armories of the LDF itself, the LMPS and the LCS.

“The unstable security situation is partly attributed to missing arms and ammunition from the LDF armoury, missing AK47 firearms from the Correctional Service armoury and the arms that were confiscated from the …LMPS  by the LDF in 2014,” the report states.

SADC also expresses concern that the continued arrests of senior LDF members amid the absence of a credible witness protection mechanisms all threatened the peace in Lesotho.

Since Dr Thabane’s coalition took over in June, several soldiers including former army commander Kamoli have been arrested over various crimes during the latter’s reign.

Lt-Gen Kamoli faces charges of murdering Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko who was killed at the Police Headquarters during the army’s August 2014 raids of police stations.

Dr Thabane equated the raids to a coup detat and fled to South to only return under heavy South African police guard. He remained under SA protection until the February 2015 snap elections which returned Dr Mosisili to power.  Dr Mosisili’s coalition was then accused of unleashing a reign of terror on its opponents resulting in the killing of Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, whom Dr Thabane had appointed to replace Lt-Gen Kamoli, prompting the latter’s coup attempt. Lt-Gen Mahao’s killing resulted in the establishment of SADC’s commission of inquiry led by Botswana Judge Mphaphi Phumaphi and a rafter of recommendations which are yet to be fully implemented.  It is hoped that the deployment of the SADC force will hasten the implementation of all the outstanding recommendations.

Lt-Gen Kamoli faces further charges of  attempted murder of 14 people who were present in the houses of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane and one ‘Mamoletsane Moletsane when their homes were bombed on 27 January 2014 by suspected LDF operatives.

He remains in custody at the Maseru Maximum Prison after his bail application was turned by the High Court this week.

Also contributing to the instability in Lesotho, the report states,  are claims by the opposition that the Thabane government is on a mission to persecute its leaders, some of whom have since fled the country.

Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, his deputy Tšeliso Mokhosi, and Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, fled the country in the aftermath of the June elections.

Mr Metsing, who is also the Member of Parliament for Mahobong, fled the country in August this year, claiming that he had received a tip-off that the police were on their way to his Ha Lobiane home-town to arrest and kill him.  However, Prime Minister Thabane rejected Mosisili’s claims in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times two weeks back. The premier described Mr Metsing as a “fugitive from justice” who had run away to avoid being arrested and jailed over allegations that he took bribes from a company, Bravo Construction, in exchange of lucrative road construction tenders.  The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) had investigated Mr Metsing’s accounts and unearthed substantial cash deposits which the former deputy prime minister was said to have failed to explain.

Mr Mokhosi, a former Minister of Defence and National Security, who is facing murder charges, fled the country in September immediately after he was released on bail, alleging that his life was in danger. Mr Mokhosi also accused police of brutally assaulting him, charges the LMPS vehemently denied.

Mr Mokhosi was charged, alongside four police officers, for the murder of Police Constable, Mokalekale Khetheng, who was last seen in March 2016 at a traditional feast in Sebothoane, Leribe, while being arrested by his colleagues. Constable Khetheng was killed after he had allegedly rejected pressure to falsely implicate Dr Thabane in violence and arson attacks.

Mr Mokhothu fled in September alleging that he had seen his name on an alleged hit-list. But Dr Thabane’s coalition has since dismissed all these claims as self-serving rhetoric from opposition leaders afraid to stand trial for an assortment of alleged crimes.

The SADC report said that opposition parties, non-governmental organisations and some civil society organisations remained apprehensive that the SADC contingent force could be used by the government to persecute its opponents.

“In view of the negative perceptions by the opposition regarding the deployment of the SADC Force, it is recommended that a clear communication and public relations strategy be designed and implemented prior to and during the deployment.

“Elements of the strategy may include conducting an education campaign on the overall objectives of SADC, particularly with respect to politics, defence and security co-operation amongst member states and citizens,” reads the report.

Other recommendations in the report include the restoration of trust within the LDF ranks and between the LDF command and military intelligence. SADC had already suggested that slain army commander, Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, had no support from the Colonel Tumo Lekhooa-led Military Intelligence cluster, which should have anticipated the assassination plot and tries to forestall it.

The report recommends that “the status of the arms, weapons and ammunitions inventory …be immediately established and any gaps … be addressed”.

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