Prisoners on the run

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MASERU – Police in Maseru have launched a manhunt for two dangerous prisoners who broke out of the maximum security prison in a movie-style escape a fortnight ago.

The fugitive prisoners, Patrick Molekane and Thato Ramafikeng, were part of a group of five hardcore criminals who broke out of the maximum security section of the Maseru Correctional Institution on January 25.

The other two inmates – Montši Raselimo and Motloheloa Thaele – were captured about four hours later just after crossing the border into South Africa.

The third, Malefane Motoai, was caught the following day.

In a curious twist to the daring escape, Motoai was found dead in his cell the following morning and police suspect foul play.

Molekane was serving eight years for vehicle theft, while Ramafikeng was doing as much time for armed robbery.

Ramafikeng, also known as Tšeliso Ntee, is from Bloemfontein in South Africa.

Molekane’s last known address is also across the border in Clocolan, about 50 kilometres from Maseru.

Lesotho Correctional Service senior assistant commissioner, Matingoe Phamotse, said the escape appeared to have been well planned.

According to Phamotse, prison guards doing routine checks found the inmates missing around 5.30am on the day of their escape.

The prisoners are suspected to have forced out burglar bars on a small toilet window before slithering out.

“I think they didn’t use any objects to break the burglar bars as they only had their shoes and clothes in a cell,” Phamotse told the Lesotho Times yesterday.

“It looks like they used their hands to force the burglar bars apart.”

The quintet dashed about 100m to the prison complex’s perimeter fence, cut it open and fled.

They then crossed the Mohokare River, about three kilometres from the prison, into neighbouring South Africa.

The prison wardens on duty, on realising that the five had escaped, raised alarm and a manhunt was immediately launched.

“I don’t think they had gone for more than 30 minutes when the officers recognised that they had disappeared because the correctional officers do routine rounds every time,” Phamotse said.

After combing Maseru and nearby South African towns, two of the escapees were nabbed around 10am while walking in a maize-field towards Ladybrand, some 15km from the Lesotho border.

One of the prisoners, Raselimo, was still in his full prison garb – red shirt and khakhi trousers – while the other, Thaele, had taken off his shirt.

The third escapee, Motoai, was captured by the South African police in the Free State province.

Molekane and Ramafikeng are still on the run.

Phamotse said the two fugitives could be armed and dangerous.

“We have launched a manhunt for these dangerous criminals,” he said. “The South African police are helping us on the other side while we are doing our best this side.”

Raselimo from Sebothoane Ha Selupi in Leribe was in December 2007 slapped with a 54-year jail term for several counts of housebreaking.

Thaele of Upper Thamae in Maseru was in June 2006 found guilty of murder and was imprisoned for 20 years.

Phamotse said they had beefed up security at all of the country’s prisons following the escape.

He said they did not suspect prison officers were involved in the inmates’ break-out.

“It has worried everyone in the security sector. We are worried and the police are worried,” Phamotse said.

“It’s disturbing and we have beefed up security operations.”

He added: “We are still waiting for a proper investigation from the police but we are very confident that none of our wardens aided them.”

Last year three inmates escaped from the maximum security prison after attacking a guard, but were captured on the same day.

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