MASERU — In an incident that has triggered fears of a violent crackdown, rogue soldiers beat six men with gun butts before making them roll on the ground on Saturday at Sea Point.
The Lesotho Defence Forces (LDF) this week sought to distance itself from the 12 rogue soldiers whose alleged leader has since been arrested by the military police.
By yesterday the soldier was still in detention, awaiting a court martial.
He is likely to be charged for ill-discipline and bringing the LDF into disrepute.
The incident happened just over a week after the army threatened to “hit very hard” people who instigate violence in the run-up to the May 26 election.
The army’s strongly worded statement which was roundly criticised by observers and political party leaders came after opposition members allegedly attacked Democratic Congress supporters who were at a rally in the Thetsane Industrial Area on April 19.
At least 10 people were injured during the attack.
On Saturday morning two friends who refused to be named for security reasons said they were walking home when they came across 12 soldiers who were patrolling the Sea Point area.
One of them said the soldiers were already beating four other men and making them roll on the ground. The two friends were just about to pass the soldiers when one of the soldiers called them.
The soldiers said they were “searching for dagga and guns”.
“They then pointed at the four who were already rolling on the ground and told us to do the same,” said the 24-year-old man.
He said when he tried to explain that they were not hostile to being searched they were shoved to the ground while being kicked.
When they tried to protest, he said, they were hit with gun butts.
Then they started rolling on the ground.
“If you were not rolling at their pace they would kick you in the ribs and tell you that after that kick you would roll faster.”
Another man said they rolled for about 30 metres at a time.
After each time they would be kicked and beaten as they rushed to start another “lap”.
“I was feeling dizzy and at one point I just stopped. I said they would rather shoot me because I was not going to stand up again,” he said.
He said after what “seemed like forever” the soldiers drove off but not before kicking them again as they lay helplessly on the ground.
The man said although he had obtained a medical form he was yet to report the matter to the police.
He however said his ankles were still sore.
The other one said he still has pain in the rib area and the back.
“I don’t even want you to mention my name, the thought of those men (soldiers) drives me crazy,” said one of the men.
An elderly Sea Point resident who witnessed the incident said he was shocked by the brutality.
Khiba Khiba said he could not believe that “soldiers could be so mean to innocent people”.
“I have given up all hope in the army and its cases such as these that give a chilling effect that will impact the election results negatively. People won’t go to the polls,” said Khiba.
He said he could not understand why the soldiers were searching for guns and drugs when it is the police’s responsibility to deal with crime.
“It is the police’s duty to find guns and dagga not theirs, they should rather go to the borders or to some war-torn countries not here in the villages,” Khiba said.
The LDF’s spokesperson, Captain Ntlele Ntoi, said the army was aware of the report and investigations were underway.
He said they heard the report on radio and immediately dispatched some soldiers to Sea Point.
“Unfortunately the officers who were being referred to had already left, but their victims were still there,” Ntoi said.
Ntoi said the victims were interviewed and reports were made.
He said the group was eventually confronted about the incident and their leader was arrested by the military police, Ntoi said.
“He is still in detention and is facing some charges though I don’t have details now because more investigations are still being made.”
Ntoi said the army’s quick reaction to the incident clearly shows that it was ready to protect the people.
“His (the leader) detention goes to show that we stand by our word to protect everyone and take those who indulge in riots to task. He is an example.”