FOURTEEN members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who turned into state witnesses in the mutiny trial of their colleagues, allegedly under duress, have been given indefinite leave of absence to allow them time with their families as well as to decide whether or not they want to continue as soldiers.
The 14 are among several soldiers that were arrested between May and July 2015 on charges of plotting to topple the command of the-then army commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.
The soldiers last month wrote a letter to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, narrating how they were tortured in detention and forced to become state witnesses against 22 of their colleagues who were subsequently placed on open arrest during the tenure of the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led government.
The mutiny suspects were accused of working in cahoots with former army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, who was later killed by fellow soldiers in June 2015 while allegedly resisting arrest in Mokema.
Lt-Gen Mahao’s family dismissed the LDF’s claims that he resisted arrest and instead accused the army of killing him in cold blood.
After the killing, SADC to help establish the circumstances surrounding the incident, resulting in a Commission of Inquiry led by the retired Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana.
The 10-member commission carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and found that there was no mutiny plot and recommended an amnesty for the suspected mutineers. It also recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.
The suspected mutineers were however, not granted an amnesty, with Dr Mosisili’s administration placing 22 soldiers on open arrest.
The 14 ‘state witnesses’ were on Monday granted indefinite leave of absence from the army.
“You are informed that the command acting under the authority of the government of Lesotho has arranged to grant you special leave termed ‘a leave of absence’ with effect from the 1st day of October 2017 until further notice,” reads part of the letter written to the soldiers on 16 October, 2017.
“Be informed that during the period of your leave of absence, you shall still maintain your status as an employee and member of LDF. However, you will not exercise any authority or do duty of LDF, unless directed to do so by the command of LDF.
“Take thorough notice that you are at liberty to move out of the country to any SADC member state. This notwithstanding, your cellphone must always remain on active mode and or be on roaming mode for your accessibility whenever need arises.”
In their letter to the premier, the 14 demanded to be compensated for the “serious acts of torture” they allegedly suffered in detention at their hands of their colleagues in the LDF.
The Defence Ministry’s Principal Secretary, Colonel Tanki Mothae, last night confirmed to the Lesotho Times that the soldiers had been granted indefinite leave of absence.
“Yes that is true that we granted them leave.
“We decided together with the command of the LDF to do the same for these guys (as the other 45 soldiers who were recently given indefinite leave) and give them a leave of absence to be with their families, to do their own things because they really have not had that opportunity for two years. They were just kept at the prison, they said were subjected to torture,” Colonel Mothae said, adding they were called ‘state witnesses’ but they wanted to set the record straight and dispel those claims.
In their 28 September, 2017 letter written to government titled ‘Position of mutiny accused soldiers turned into ‘state witnesses,’ the 14 soldiers demanded a right to be heard by the LDF authorities and some sections of the population.
“Our position is that we have never took part in mutiny or incited any person to take part in any mutiny. We further had no knowledge of mutiny taking place or intended to take place,” part of their letter reads.
“We were forced by the use of torture to implicate our colleagues and turn into state witnesses against them. We are readily available to use any platform including the courts of law to confess that we were made to become state witnesses and implicate our colleagues through duress (extreme use of force such as suffocation, severe beatings like been hit with hard objects on genitals, blindfolded, gun pointed, fasten against a pole, handcuffed and shackled, and drowned in very cold water sometimes legs covered with snow).”
The soldiers said they had since been ostracised by their colleagues in the army who regarded them as sell-outs.