Thabane vows not to return until Kamoli is fired

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Billy Ntaote

Former Prime Minister and All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader  Thomas Thabane has insisted that he will  not return home until army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli is fired, raising the specter that ongoing talks between the government and the opposition to find common ground on many issues, including the safe return of all exiled opposition leaders, may not bear fruit.

In fact Dr Thabane said he was not even aware of the talks which began in South Africa on 2 March 2016, and are set to continue on March 31.

The government has not yet pronounced itself on whether or not it will heed the recommendation of a SADC inquiry for the dismissal of Lt General Kamoli. Political observers say this could be an indication that the LDF commander will stay put.

Alternatively, Dr Thabane said he can only return if SADC gives him its own protection as it did when he originally fled the country in August 2014. But there is no precedent of the regional body having deployed security to protect an opposition leader.

Observers say it is difficult to see a way forward for the ongoing talks between the government and the opposition if, the opposition in general, and Dr Thabane in particular, keep on making Lt-General Kamoli’s removal a pre-requisite for his return.

The ABC leader fled to South Africa on 11 May 2015 and maintains he had to skip the country after being alerted of an alleged plot to kill him by some members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) led by Lt-Gen Kamoli.

Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader Keketso Rantšo, have also been living in South Africa since May last year after leaving the country for the same reason alleged by Dr Thabane.

The LDF denies the allegations, but Dr Thabane this week reiterated his claim, insisting he would only end his exile when Lt-Gen Kamoli has been sacked.

“I ran away because of the same security problem that continues to affect our country to this day. I ran away from the soldiers. It should be clear that I am referring to Kamoli and a clique of his soldiers who are supporting him. I am ready to cross Mohokare river anytime and return home but I can only do so after Kamoli has been removed as commander,” Dr Thabane said.

The ABC leader further said the LDF’s alleged refusal to submit to civilian authority was another reason he continued to fear for his life.

“We cannot be ruled by soldiers; we cannot be ordered around by soldiers. Those soldiers should submit to civilian rule and be directed by Defence Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi, which they refuse to do.

“There is no reason why our soldiers would want to be involved in so many things these days to the extent that they end up wanting to rule the country,” he said.

Dr Thabane also noted unless the prime minister implemented the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations, Lesotho would continue to face security and political challenges.

The SADC Inquiry sought to establish, among other things, the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015 in Mokema by the military. The LDF says Lt-Gen Mahao was killed while resisting arrest for suspected mutiny but the SADC inquiry doubted that claim.

The Inquiry, led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana,  made a number of  recommendations, among them the dismissal of Lt-Gen Kamoli “in the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the Lesotho Defence Force to the Basotho nation”.

The commissioners also noted some of Lesotho’s political and security problems were due to the country’s constitution, adding: “The deficiencies and overlaps in the constitution with regard to the mandates of security institutions need to be looked into urgently with a comprehensive strategy to reform them”.

Dr Thabane said what happens to the Phumaphi recommendations “is the sole responsibility” of the Prime Minister.

Ntate Mosisili should implement those recommendations from SADC. It’s a responsibility facing him, and him alone, as our Prime Minister. He is my Prime Minister; he is also the Prime Minister of Metsing (Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing) and Kamoli, and indeed everybody else in Lesotho.

“When he returned from retirement, I handed power to him in broad daylight last year. All I am asking for now is to be able to freely perform my duties as the official leader of the opposition, but I can only do so if I am back in my country, not here in exile.

“My party needs me back in parliament so that I can perform my role of holding the government to account.

“But like I said, my main concern is for government to address the security problems facing our country and then I would gladly return.

“The last time we met with Ntate Mosisili, I asked him to his face whether he had authorised the soldiers to kill General Mahao and he said he had not authorised such a thing. Mahao was their comrade-in-arms but they still killed him. If they killed their comrade-in-arms, imagine what they would do to me, a civilian. They would kill me, without a doubt,” said Dr Thabane.

He continued: “My safe return, and indeed, also that of my fellow opposition leaders, is just a small part of the solution to our country’s security problem. But small as our return home might appear, it remains a key issue in all these challenges facing Ntate (Pakalitha) Mosisili as the Prime Minister of Lesotho.”

Asked about talks initiated by the government early this month for the opposition leaders’ return, Dr Thabane said: “I know nothing about those talks. I did not attend the meeting (in Modderport, South Africa, on 2 March 2016).

“All I am waiting for is a response from SADC over my request for security so I can safely return to Lesotho. If SADC does not provide me with security the way they did after the coup attempt (of August 2014), then those soldiers will surely assassinate me once I am back in Lesotho.

“I left the country last year because I had received a tip-off about a plot to assassinate me, and that was the same tip-off I had received when I fled in (August) 2014. I only have one life so I cannot risk by returning home without the necessary security measures being put in place.”

Dr Thabane also said he owed it to his supporters to be back in Lesotho, but could only do so if his safety was guaranteed.

“It’s unfair for me to be on the run like this; I have to return home and perform my duties as Leader of the Opposition in parliament.

“I took an oath for that position I hold in parliament, and I want to come back to perform my duties. I should be earning my salary and not just enjoying it without working for it. I don’t enjoy living in Ficksburg, it is not my home. My home is Makhoakhoeng in Ha Abia where I was elected a Member of Parliament.

“That is why I cannot refuse to return home, but this can only happen when the problem I ran away from has been addressed. However, like I said, that problem still exists as we speak, and that problem is Kamoli,” said Dr Thabane.

Dr Thabane also spoke about why he refused LDF protection when he left office after the 28 February 2015 elections, and requested police protection instead.

“I did not ask for police protection because of lack of respect for the army. I needed certain issues in the LDF to be ironed out first before the army could offer me security.

“When all the issues I have with the LDF have been cleared, I don’t see why I would not be protected by the army the way a former prime minister should,” Dr Thabane said.

Meanwhile, Dr Thabane urged Basotho “to go to church and pray for peace this Easter and live by Christ’s teachings”.

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