Exiled soldiers return

  • Govt to decide on their fate
  • LDF, LCS members handed over to their commanding officers

Staff Writer

OVER 23 Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members and a Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) officer have returned home from exile, as the government implements a SADC Commission of Inquiry decision to ensure their safe return.

Ministry of Defence and National Security Principal Secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, told the Lesotho Times yesterday that a decision was yet to be made by the government on whether the army and prison officers – who arrived on Tuesday – would resume their duties or retire and get their pension benefits.

They have since been handed over to the LDF and LCS authorities as a determination on their fate is being made, Rtd Col Mothae said.

Defence and National Security Minister Sentje Lebona also confirmed the development, saying the government’s facilitation of the officers’ return was in fulfilment of SADC decisions.

“I can confirm that all exiled soldiers arrived in the country yesterday (Tuesday) and they were officially welcomed by Principal Secretary, Colonel Tanki Mothae,” Mr Lebona said.

“You will remember that government has been meeting with the exiled soldiers in the previous months to see how best they can return to Lesotho in line with SADC recommendations and their safe return in the country is a big effort in implementing such decisions.”

Some of the officers fled the country from as far back as 2014 citing threats to their lives from their colleagues. The others skipped Lesotho in 2015, after being accused of plotting to violently remove the LDF command led by then commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.

Between May and June 2015, the LDF arrested 22 officers whom the agency accused of mutiny. The LDF also accused former LDF commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, of being the ringleader for the mutiny.

However, lawyers for the alleged mutineers argued, in their court martial that, the case against their clients was ludicrous since Lt-Gen Mahao would have plotted a mutiny against himself since he was LDF commander at the time the alleged offence was committed.

Lt-Gen Kamoli had been fired in August 2014 by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane during his first tenure as premier, although he resisted the move by attempting a coup in deploying soldiers to seize arms from police stations around Maseru.

The attempted putsch, which left one police officer dead, triggered a chain of events that led to the collapse of Dr Thabane’s government which was replaced by a Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven-party governing coalition in March 2015.

Lt-Gen Mahao, who was eventually fired by DrMosisili and replaced by Lt-Gen Kamoli, was killed on 25 June 2015 by soldiers who claimed he resisted arrest for the alleged mutiny.

However, Lt-Gen Mahao’s family has accused the army of killing him in cold blood basing on the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.

The killing prompted SADC to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the incident and the underlying causes of Lesotho’s perennial instability.

Led by Botswana judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, the 10-member commission carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015.

Among its recommendations was criminal investigations into the death of Lt-Gen Mahao leading to prosecution and the safe return of the exiled soldiers.

The SADC Commission of Inquiry also concluded that the LDF’s case against the alleged mutineers was “highly suspect” and recommended that they be granted amnesty by the government. The 23 mutiny-accused officers were all subsequently released from the Maseru Maximum Security Prison — in light of international pressure on the Dr Mosisili-led government — and placed under “open arrest”.

Dr Thabane returned to power after the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections and has since halted the court martial, with a commitment to disbanding it.

The government also held meetings with the exiled officers to discuss the modalities of their return.

In August, senior government and LDF officials held a meeting with the soldiers in Ladybrand, South Africa. Among the concerns the exiled soldiers had raised was the cutting of their salaries by the LDF.

The grievance had prompted the exiled soldiers last year to write to SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax seeking the regional bloc’s intervention.

Sources close to the matter have told this paper that slain army commander Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo had ordered the army accounts department to resume issuing the salaries of the exiled soldiers a few weeks before he was gunned down last month.

Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was fatally shot on 5 September 2017 allegedly by his subordinates – Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.

Brigadier Sechele and Colonel Hashatsi were subsequently shot dead by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards.

However, LDF spokesperson Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi refused to comment on the matter in a previous interview with the Lesotho Times.

“The world over, it is not acceptable in the military for what the commander might have said internally on administrative issues to be known by outsiders; that is spying. If there is anything meant for the public, the public will be informed,” Brig Ntoi had said.


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