THE Transformation Resource Centre, says the delay in the dropping of charges against 45 soldiers accused of mutiny leaves them vulnerable to their “persecutors” in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
The civil society group has also expressed umbrage at the “slow” pace in the implementation of the envisaged multi-sectoral reforms adding that there was no “clear or tangible” programme in place.
Communications Minister, Joang Molapo, has responded saying the government has already stated its position with regards to the mutiny accused soldiers and is working on a comprehensive implementation plan for the reforms.
Forty five soldiers were slapped with mutiny charges in 2015 by the LDF which was then under the command of Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli who retired on 1 December 2016.
Twenty-two of the suspected mutineers were arrested and detained at the Maseru Maximum Prison while the rest fled the country between 2014 and 2015. Fourteen of the detained soldiers turned into state witnesses in the mutiny trial of their colleagues, but have since claimed they testified under duress.
The detained soldiers were eventually released under open arrest, a form of bail in the military.
The 45 soldiers were last month sent on an indefinite leave of absence to give them time to decide whether or not they want to continue as members of the security agency. The government also decided to reconvene the court martial next year.
The TRC has repeatedly criticised the deferment of the court martial, saying the charges should be dropped since they had been debunked by a South African Development Community inquiry into Lesotho’s instability.
“We still don’t understand why, to date, these mutiny charges have not been dropped since it has been proved that there was never any mutiny in the first place,” said TRC Director Tsikoane Peshoane, adding that the government was being lulled into a false sense of security by the LDF command.
“Some of the officers in the LDF command were directly involved in the atrocities, while for others it was indirect. Some of the senior officers were promoted because they persecuted these mutiny accused soldiers, so the government needs to take decisive action.”
He said the SADC standby force that is expected in the country next Monday would take the government’s lead as far as security reforms are concerned.
“SADC will only assist where there is a clear mandate and directives from the government.”
Mr Peshoane said the 14 soldiers who have claimed that they were made state witnesses after being tortured and would not testify at the court martial were vulnerable to attacks from their “persecutors”.
“Our appeal to the government is for them to act with urgency, be bold and give the LDF orders because the state witnesses have exposed themselves even more to their persecutors,” he said.
The dearth of a “clear or tangible” implementation plan for the multi-sectoral reforms was another cause for concern for the TRC. The Mountain Kingdom has embarked on security, constitutional, judiciary and legislative reforms among others with the objective of attaining lasting peace and stability.
“There is no tangible programme in place on the reforms and even other stakeholders have not been brought on board to submit or brainstorm ideas on how best to implement the reforms,” he said.
“The government is not expressing its intentions to implement the reforms through their actions, except on the paper. That is not enough.”
For his part, Chief Molapo said the government had already articulated its position with regards to the mutiny accused soldiers and was working on a comprehensive implementation plan for the reforms.
“We understand those issues and we have already made our intentions clear that the mutiny charges will be dropped next year,” he said.
“On the reforms, we have not shared our implementation programme as yet and we had a series of consultative meetings with other political leaders without imposing our views on them.”
Chief Molapo added: “If they (TRC) thought we would approach it like the previous regime which imposed things on us, we are not going to do that.
“That’s why we showed our dissatisfaction when we were in the opposition. We are putting together a very comprehensive and detailed document where all stakeholders will share ideas and adopt them as their own, since everyone will be able to make an input.”