Army lauded for taming rogue soldiers

. . . as TRC lashes out at ‘brutal’ cops

 

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – In one fell swoop the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) on Tuesday this week lashed out cops, accusing them of brutality while heaping praises on the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela for his “remarkable efforts” to professionalise the historically troublesome army.

Lesotho has a long history of political instability and violent conflict since gaining independence in October 1966 and observers have argued that the army’s sizeable and usually toxic influence on politics is probably at the heart of the country’s instability

Since its formation in the 1970s, the LDF has been a major player in shaping local politics, intermittently usurping civilian rule through a military takeover in 1986, causing internal conflicts in 1994 and 1998, and unrests in 2007, 2014 and 2017.

Remarkably perhaps, considering its record, nearly two years since the appointment of its new commander Letsoela, the LDF has remained a relatively safe companion to liberty, despite occasional rumours of tension between government and military.

This has attracted compliment from the TRC – a stern critic of human rights abusers.

TRC and the LDF are known to have a particularly tense relationship, with the former perpetually blaming the latter and other security agencies of slowing down the promotion of human rights in the country.

“The new commander’s vision of depoliticising the LDF is remarkable, even though there are still some challenges. Discipline within the LDF is visible as compared to 2015 when the army was characterised by rogue elements. There is accountability now,” said TRC Human Rights Advocacy Officer, Lepeli Moeketsi.

Moeketsi was addressing student officers of the Joint Command and Staff Course from the Zimbabwe military staff college. The officers arrived in the country on Tuesday last week and left yesterday.

TRC director Tsikoane Peshoane told the same audience that while the army had improved its human rights performance, the country was still devastated by the deaths and injuries to scores of people, many of them unarmed, at the hands of the police.

“Police brutality is a big concern now. The commissioner of police can learn a thing or two from the commander of the army on how to deal with rogue officers and professionalise the police service,” Peshoane said.

The TRC has previously suggested that Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli is struggling to hem in rogue officers in the service.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that over 40 people have been killed by police officers since 2017 when the current government was installed.

“Those reports are exaggerated,” Molibeli told Public Eye earlier this year.

On February 8, 2018, a protestor was shot and killed in Botha Bothe when police crushed a peaceful protest by Kao residents calling on a local mine to fulfill its pre-inception promises and statutory obligations.

Police opened fire at protestors and two sustained severe injuries while one was shot and killed.

On October 13, Tau Khauoe, whose father was a well-known advocate, was shot dead during a joint operation by the police and the army in Motimposo on the outskirts of Maseru.

In July this year, rogue police officers allegedly forced Kabelo Ratia, 31, to eat his own faeces in a harrowing style of torture.

Ratia claimed he was forced to confess to have robbed a local business of M30,000.

He reportedly defecated twice and each time his torturers forced him to eat the excreta.

Ratia was arrested along with Thabo Mei, from Nazareth in the Maseru district, and two others in July and were reportedly severely tortured.

Mei was declared dead on arrival at Scott Hospital in Morija earlier this month. He died as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of the rogue officers.

Moeketsi told the Zimbabwean soldiers that despite improvements in the army, there were still some challenges which he said needed addressing.

These include outstanding issues of compensation for families of victims of military repression and survivors of horrendous torture between 2012 and 2017 when LDF was running amok.

“Rehabilitation for victims is needed to ensure proper reintegration,” he said.

The families include those of slain army commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao and private security guard Mohau Qobete.

Qobete was shot while on guard at the ministry of education headquarters in February 2015 when soldiers exchanged fire with some deserters.

Mahao was ambushed and killed by soldiers in June 2015.

The army said he was shot while resisting arrest for leading a mutiny.

No one has been convicted of the murders and real accountability and redress remain elusive.

Following Mahao’s killing, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) characterised Lesotho’s security situation as explosive and deployed a commission of inquiry to probe “disturbances to peace and stability in Lesotho”.

The 10-member commission led by retired Botswana High Court judge Mpaphi Phumapi found that the involvement of Mahao in the alleged mutiny plot “remains doubtful as there was no evidence to prove his involvement”.

It also found that on a balance of probabilities, Mahao did not resist arrest.

It therefore recommended that criminal investigations into his death be conducted expeditiously and comprehensively and lead to a transparent course of justice.

It also recommended that, among others, all LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason be suspended while investigations in the cases proceed in line with international best practice.

Moeketsi said on Tuesday: “No soldiers implicated have been suspended as per Sadc commission of inquiry decision.”

He said there were fresh “persistent attempts” by politicians to infiltrate “the current command” of the LDF despite its resistance.

He also bemoaned the slow progress and lack of urgency in investigating the murder of another former LDF commander Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo who was shot dead, allegedly by one of his own officers in September 2017.

Although it is still unclear what actually happened on that fateful day, it has been reported that Motšomotšo was in his office at the Ratjomose barracks in Maseru when two senior officers Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi forced their way in.

One of the two allegedly shot Motšomotšo and in an ensuing gun fight with the commander’s bodyguards, Sechele and Hashatsi were both killed.

“Fresh mutiny cases on the killing of the former commander Gen. Motšomotšo are dragging,” Moeketsi said.

He told the Zimbabwean soldiers that moving human rights from the law books into the everyday lives of people living in Lesotho “takes effective security institutions and commitment at all levels”.

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