By Bongiwe Zihlangu
MASERU — The arrest, subsequent detention and court-martialling of Second Lt Thabang Phaila of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) continues to sow discord in the coalition government, leaving Justice Minister Mophato Monyake and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Molobeli Soulo deeply divided.
Phaila is currently on trial by Court Martial for mutiny and desertion.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has also entered the fray backing Soulo.
Monyake facilitated Phaila’s return to Lesotho in September last year when he informed all heads of the disciplined forces of Phaila’s presence in the country after the fugitive soldier returned ostensibly under the coalition government’s general amnesty.
Soulo is adamant that the government never “extended the amnesty Phaila is referring to”. In letters to the heads of the disciplined forces, Monyake had outlined that Phaila had fled the country in 1998 due to political unrest adding that he was asking for protection, freedom and rights enjoyed by citizens “in line with government’s directive”.
Now Soulo is discrediting Monyake, saying even if Phaila is claiming to have come under the “non-existent amnesty”, he still would not qualify because the pardon was meant for political fugitives and “Phaila does not belong in that category”.
Phaila is an officer of the LDF who allegedly played a key role in the 1998 post election mutiny connected to that year’s political riots. Phaila is accused of planning the mutiny that saw junior soldiers arresting their bosses amidst allegations that they had helped the then former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) administration to rig the 1998 poll.
He was on the run for 15 years but returned home last September only to be nabbed and detained by the Military Police (MP).
Last December Thabane convened a Court Martial for Phaila to be tried for his alleged role in the mutiny.
In his affidavit in which he cites Thabane as the first respondent, Phaila says the driving force behind his return to Lesotho was the amnesty extended by the PM’s coalition government to fugitives of political crimes.
Phaila claims in his submission that he returned home under the banner of the general amnesty extended to political fugitives.
However, throughout his answering affidavit, Soulo maintains that Phaila is misdirected because government never declared such a policy and that even if it did, the latter would not qualify “because he is not a politician”.
“Before I even venture into the merits of this case or otherwise . . . I want to categorically place it on record that there is no such thing as a policy pronouncement by government to grant amnesty to any category of persons,” Soulo said.
“Granted, the government of Lesotho would like to see those who fled the country come back to their country but that cannot be equated to an amnesty of some sort.”
Soulo adds: “I deny that there exists a government policy of encouraging exiles to return home without fear of arrest and prosecution for any politically connected offence allegedly committed before the coming into power of the present administration.”
Soulo also maintains that Monyake’s letter constitutes inadmissible hearsay “and cannot be relied upon by applicant”.
“What surprises me is the opening paragraph in the honourable minister’s letter that this applicant left Lesotho due to political unrests. I deny that and put applicant to proof thereof,” Soulo says.
In his affidavit, Thabane also counters Phaila’s claims saying his government does not have a policy in place which says those people who fled the country for political or any reason for that matter “will be given any kind of amnesty”.
“There is no such policy. The government of Lesotho does not have what the applicant said is a policy pronouncement on amnesty as I have already indicated above,” Thabane says. “I must say I find a choice of words by this applicant a bit inappropriate in the context of this case particularly because there’s no such thing (as a) Government Amnesty Policy in place.”
However, Monyake says Phaila’s return to Lesotho is in line with government’s desire and directive that all those Basotho who left the country due to political and private reasons “return home”.
As a result of this “directive”, in a letter dated September 16, 2013 and addressed to the Commander of the LDF, the Commissioner of Police and the Director of the National State Security (NSS) and copied to the Government Secretary and Phaila himself, Monyake informs the trio of Phaila’s return to Lesotho after leaving the country in September 1998 “due to political unrest”.
“Mr Phaila came to my office and I assured him of the government’s desire for all Basotho who left the country due to political or private reasons to return home,” Monyake says in the letter.
“I therefore introduce Mr Phaila to your office and request in line with government’s directive, that you afford him and his family all the protection, rights and freedoms enjoyed by every law-abiding citizen of this country.”