Retired colonel grilled over murders

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

POLICE this week arrested and grilled Retired Lieutenant Colonel, Thato Phaila, over his possible involvement in a series of crimes that were committed by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) including the 2015 and 2017 assassinations of army commanders, Maaparankoe Mahao and Khoantle Motšomotšo.

The crimes were committed before Lt-Col Phaila’s retirement in December 2016.

Rtd Lt-Col Phaila was summoned to the police headquarters on Monday and he remains in custody as police continue with their investigations.

Police Spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli yesterday confirmed a team of investigators quizzed the retired senior army officer; but would not be drawn into divulging the full details of the issues that led to his detention.

“Lt-Colonel Phaila remains in police custody, helping the police with their investigations,” Supt Mopeli said.

“It is premature for me to give full details of the cases he is assisting the police with save to say that we believe that he will shed more light into some of the crimes perpetrated within the LDF before his retirement.”

However, well-placed sources told the Lesotho Times that Lt-Col Phaila was assisting police in their investigations into the assassinations of Lt-Gen Mahao and Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.

He was also quizzed on the murders of Police Sub Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko and the three men whose remains were retrieved from Mohale Dam in December last year.

A source privy to the investigations said Lt-Col Phaila had a “wealth of information that could help the police to understand circumstances surrounding the crimes perpetrated by some LDF soldiers, in particular the murder of the two army commanders, Sub Inspector Ramahloko and the three men whose bodies were thrown in Mohale Dam”.

Lt-Gen Mahao was ambushed and shot by his peers near his farm in Mokema on 25 June 2015.

The LDF claimed that Lt-Gen Mahao had been shot while resisting arrest over an alleged mutiny plot.  However, the army’s version was dismissed by both the soldier’s family and the SADC commission of inquiry headed by retired judge Mphaphi Phumaphi.

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

Justice Phumaphi’s 10-member commission carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and recommended, among other things, that the government should investigate the killing of Lt-Gen Mahao and prosecute those found to be responsible. So far, eight soldiers have appeared in court charged with his murder.

Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was killed on 30 August, 2014 during an attempted coup against the first government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. Four soldiers have since been arrested over his murder.

Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was shot dead on 5 September 2017 in Ratjomose Barracks office by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi. The two were subsequently shot dead by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s body guards.

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