Govt warns of army revolt

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… accuses opposition leaders and  former security  chiefs of plotting mayhem.

Keiso Mohloboli

THE government has accused top security officers, who fled the country, of plotting with exiled opposition leaders to destabilise the country.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s coalition says the former senior security officials and the opposition leaders have been holding secret meetings in South Africa with the sole aim of plotting to cause havoc in the country.  The secret plots, alongside the fact that incarcerated former army boss, Tlali Kamoli, still commanded a significant following in the army, raised the spectre of a revolt.

The government’s concerns are outlined in a detailed report presented to a double troika summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Luanda, Angola, last week. The report sought to justify why SADC should extend its troops deployment in Lesotho.  The government seems to have succeeded in that objective as SADC agreed to extend its troops deployment in Lesotho for a further six months.  The Lesotho Times has obtained a copy of the report which paints a graphic picture of the government’s fears, including its concerns that Lt-Gen Kamoli still holds sway in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), and would orchestrate a revolt if given the opportunity.

The report also reveals the government’s impending plans to arrest senior army officers for treason, arising from the 30 August 2014 coup attempt.  The arrests could trigger a revolt from renegades in the army who partook in the ill-fated coup attempt, hence the need for SADC troops to remain in Lesotho, the government says.

The report argues that the security situation in Lesotho remains volatile. The impending arrests of the senior army and police officials as well as the delays in extraditing opposition leaders, who are currently in self-imposed exile in South Africa, could spark a revolt, the government argued.

While extending its troop deployment by another six months, SADC also gave Lesotho until May 2019 to fully implement constitutional and security sector reforms recommended by the regional body.

The mandate of the regional body’s troops in Lesotho, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL), was supposed to have ended this month. It has now been extended to November 2018 as part of efforts to ensure that the reforms are implemented and not sabotaged.

The government singled out former police commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa, and former National Security Service (NSS) director-general, Tumo Lekhooa, who all fled to South Africa as the net closed in on them, as the masterminds of secret meetings with opposition leaders to plot the destabilisation of the current coalition government.

Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing and his deputy Tšeliso Mokhosi fled the country last year alleging their lives were in danger. The government has however denied plotting to assassinate them.   Dr Thabane has described Mr Metsing as a fugitive from justice who is scared of being arrested over alleged fraud and corruption. But the Thabane government has also promised him security if he returns to partake in the reforms process.

Efforts to reach Messrs Metsing and Mokhosi on the latest allegations against them failed yesterday. We could also not reach the former top security officers, Messrs Lekhooa and Letsoepa, who have maintained stony silence since they skipped the country after the ouster of the previous Pakalitha Mosisili regime which they served.

The Thabane government warned in its report that murder-accused former commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli, still had a significant following within the army which could fuel a revolt unless SADC troops remained in Lesotho to subdue such threats. Moreover, there were still unrecovered firearms that went missing from the LDF and Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) armouries and that could be at the disposal of Kamoli sympathizers.

“There is a possibility of the degeneration of the country’s political and security situation which warrants immediate and long-term resolutions.

“While efforts to facilitate the return of exiled opposition leaders are continuing, the country needs other confidence building mechanisms aimed at restoring cordial relations between the government and opposition. It is on the basis of the foregoing that an extension of the SAPMIL is necessary to ensure that Lesotho attains the envisaged reforms and lasting peace,” the government said in its report, titled; ‘Update on the implementation of SADC decisions and recommendations on the political and security situation in Lesotho and the reform process from 26 February to 20 April 2018’.

The report forcefully concludes that the security situation in Lesotho remains volatile.  Unless the SADC troops’ tenure in the country is extended, there were high chances that fugitive former security chiefs, exiled opposition leaders and renegade soldiers could foment chaos in the country.

“The pending cases wherein high ranking LDF officials are implicated in criminal activities also heighten tension within the army,” the report says.

“Of particular concern is the case relating to Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli who still has a following within the army ranks. On the other hand, pending arrests of other senior LDF officers, former police commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa and former NSS director-general, Tumo Lekhooa and some opposition leaders are a cause for concern as the reaction of LDF members could trigger a revolt.

“Moreover, the former heads of LMPS and NSS who fled to South Africa continue to hold secret meetings with opposition leaders raising the possibility that they could be planning to destabilise the government. The continued stay of these leaders in South Africa and the delay in agreeing to extradite leader of LCD could actually aggravate the situation where it will ultimately force the government to proceed with the reforms without them.”

The government also reported that it had made progress towards kick-starting the stalled reforms process.

It said one of the milestones that have been recently achieved is the setting up of a steering committee that will work on the security sector reforms.

“A steering committee was recently formed and it is structured at a three-tier level.  At the apex are the ministers of Defence and National Security, as well as the Police and Correctional Services.  Below the ministers are the principal secretaries and chiefs of security agencies, and at the third level is the technical committee composed of senior technical people from the two ministries and security agencies.

“The output of the steering committee is intended to dovetail into the work of the overall reforms structures in the Kingdom. Discussions are already ensuing with regard to quick wins, for example, towards resolving the overlapping functions of the two (army and police) sectors.

Commenting on the latest developments, the police commissioner, Holomo Molibeli yesterday told the Lesotho Times that there was need to clearly delineate the powers of the police and the army to avoid the duplication of roles.

He said while both the Police Act of 1998 and the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Act of 1996 speak of crime prevention, the latter act was not explicit in its articulation of the role of soldiers to avoid the overlapping of mandates with the police.

“The discussions between the two institutions are still on going and I want to avoid a situation where I speak about issues prematurely. However, the Police Act doesn’t need too much work except for a few clauses which should provide for the clear separation of duties between the police or the army,” Mr Molibeli said.

The government also unveiled a programme of events indicating that this month will be a busy period in terms of activities aimed at kick-starting and furthering the reforms process.

According to the government schedule presented in Angola, the government will this morning meet the SADC Oversight Committee in Maseru but the agenda has not been revealed.

Dr Thabane will address parliament on the reforms agenda on Monday and a national day of prayer for the reforms has been pencilled for the 13th.

The National Dialogue Planning Committee will be launched on the 16th and the National Leaders Forum will convene on the 24th.

Before then, other activities slated for this month include radio and television programmes at different radio stations to discuss the reforms as well as meetings between government officials and civil servants of different grades.

 

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