Divers comb Mohale Dam for corpses

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. . . as murder accused soldiers point to same spot

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and divers from the South African police will – if the weather permits – today continue the search for the remains of the three men suspected of having been killed and dumped in Mohale Dam by some members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in May this year.

The search, which began on Monday, is made after some of the nine murder accused LDF members allegedly confessed that they had thrown the trio over the guardrails of the 80-metre deep dam.

It is understood that the police investigating the case took some of the accused soldiers in different groups to the dam on three separate occasions in different groups to ensure they did not connive to deceive the investigators.

Mohale dam is located on the Senqunyane river, 100 km east of Maseru.

Eight LDF members were last week jointly charged with the murder of the three men who disappeared following a shooting incident at the Maseru Border Post in May this year. An LDF member and a street vendor died in the melee.

The three were members of a famo music group and had a shootout with the LDF members after one of them allegedly refused to be searched and pulled out a gun.

The jointly charged army officers are Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi (43); Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi (50); Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali (32); Private Nthatakane Motanyane (24); Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47); Motšoane Machai (39); Liphapang Sefako (48); and Nemase Faso (28).

A ninth LDF member, Private Tieho Tikiso (28), was also charged for the same crime this week in the Magistarte’s Court.

It is alleged that following the shooting incident, Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane were among six men arrested on 13 May 2017 and later released by the police. Two of the six, who were identified as a South African national and a Mosotho man respectively were released a day after their arrest.

The other three were released from police custody on 16 May 2017 but were never seen or heard from by their relatives ever since.

Two of the three men, Mr Makibinyane and Mr Pakela, were last seen when being released by police on 16 May 2017 at Pitso Ground Police Station.

Mr Noko was allegedly kidnapped by armed men who ambushed a bus he was boarding in Lekokoaneng on 15 May 2017. Mr Noko was on the way to his home in Leribe following his release from Pitso Ground Police Station.

The sixth arrestee, Motlatsi Rantaoana (23), has since been remanded in custody and is awaiting trial in the Maseru Central Correctional Institute after being charged with murdering the two army officers.

According to police investigations, the soldiers allegedly fatally strangled Messrs Noko, Pakela and Makibinyane at Setibing in rural Maseru on 16 May 2017.

The trio’s families had approached the High Court demanding the police and the army to hand over their bodies.

Since the charging of the LDF members is subject matter of the court’s ongoing inquiry into the trio’s whereabouts, the case was postponed to 31 October 2017 to allow time for the monitoring of the murder cases in the Magistrate’s court.

The Lesotho Times has learnt from impeccable sources that the accused soldiers had confessed to tying the three men with stones after strangling them to ensure they did not surface after being dumped in the dam.

The sources said the soldiers pointed to the same spot for dumping the three men over the guardrails of the dam.

“In all the three visits made to the dam as part of the investigations, the suspects pointed to the same spot as the one where the deceased were thrown with the hope that they would never be discovered as the stones would weigh down their bodies,” the sources said.

The South African diving team, accompanied by members of the LMPS Special Operations Unit (SOU), arrived at the spot pointed out by the accused soldiers late Monday afternoon.

However, the divers decided to start the process the next day since it was already close to evening.

On Tuesday, the diving team, which included an SOU member, started off by measuring the depth of the water and acclimatising to the dam’s altitude and temperature. Later in the day, they deferred the search to yesterday.

Police spokesperson, Inspector Mpiti Mopeli, yesterday told the Lesotho Times that the search was suspended until today due to rain and would only resume once weather conditions permitted.

“The search operation has been suspended due to the weather but shall hopefully resume once the skies have cleared,” Inspector Mopeli said.

Meanwhile, LDF Assistant Chief of staff Public Affairs and Protocol, Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi, has distanced the security agency from the murder charges.

In a statement issued last week, Brig Ntoi said the crime that the LDF members had been charged with had not been sanctioned by the military.

“Besides, the (LDF) Command never knew about the incident,” he said, adding that the army was cooperating with the LMPS in the investigations.

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