‘I was protecting soldiers from brutal cops’


. . . Kamoli gives fresh twist to treason trial testimony


MASERU – Detained former army boss, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, has said he did not release soldiers wanted for questioning for human rights violations because he feared for their safety, given the police’s notoriety for torturing and killing suspects at that time. Kamoli, who appeared before High Court Judge ’Maliepello Makhetha on Monday, addressed the treason charges against him through his lawyer, Advocate Letuka Molati.

He said he had no problem with releasing the soldiers but was concerned about their safety during police interrogations. As army commander, Kamoli felt he was duty-bound to protect his soldiers and sought assurances that they would not be harmed. He engaged in discussions with various authorities to secure assurances about accused soldiers’ safety. His fears were based on reports of several deaths in police custody and statements by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who had publicly ordered police to torture suspects privately.

Kamoli added that when he personally testifies, he will tell the court that he was so concerned for the soldier’s safety that he ordered the late Brigadier Bulane Sechele to go to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to inquire if the soldiers in question could still be charged without going through the police.

“Accused number one (Kamoli) will tell the court when he testifies that Sechele came back with a report that police could indeed issue summonses calling the suspects to appear before a magistrate or any other court, but police did not facilitate that process,” said Adv. Molati. Kamoli’s claims were corroborated by the first state witness in the case, Colonel Tanki Mothae.

Col. Mothae testified about his knowledge of the events that led to the alleged treason charges, stating that Prime Minister Thabane had asked him to mediate between Kamoli and the then Police Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, as there was bad blood between the two leaders. It was also at that time that Kamoli refused to release the soldiers.

Mothae said Kamoli told him he was willing to release them on the condition that they would not be tortured and their safety would be guaranteed. Mothae relayed this feedback to Thabane and the Commissioner of Police (COMPOL) and suggested appointing a mediator to mend relations between the two heads of security agencies. However, the mediation did not occur for reasons unknown to him. At the time, Mothae was attached to Botswana as a diplomat.

He recounted that his mediation was followed by a visit from Major Lekhooa and Ntoi at his offices in Botswana. Mothae told the court that the pair discussed the security and political situation in Lesotho, including Prime Minister Thabane’s interference in security issues. They also alleged that the All Basotho Convention (ABC) had a group of members undergoing training at Sethaleng sa Mopapa to ultimately join the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

“They told me that (allowing the ABC brigade to join LDF) would happen over their dead bodies,” Mothae said. At the end of their discussion, Mothae inquired why Lekhooa and Ntoi raised their concerns with him instead of the relevant authorities to which they replied that they considered him their mentor, having been a soldier.

Colonel Mothae noted that while the two majors claimed to have come on their own accord, he sensed they could have been representing a larger group of soldiers. Through their conversation, he learned that relations between the government and the army were strained. “I asked them to speak to the principal secretary in the Ministry of Defence at the time, David Sehloho, but they told me they had no confidence in him,” Mothae said.

Instead, the duo asked him to call the then Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, who they believed could better explain the situation. “I found it improper to call the DPM and never called him,” Mothae added. Mothae eventually liaised with Sehloho, explaining that Ntoi and Lekhooa were unhappy, raising the concern that they seemed to represent the views of many soldiers.

“I told him that what I discussed with the two gentlemen was very critical and that, as a soldier myself, I could sense that if it was not resolved, it would cause chaos,” said Mothae. Ntoi was then asked to compile a report, which was collected by police from his office in Botswana. The contents of the report were not disclosed in court. According to Kamoli’s defence, Prime Minister Thabane charged him with treason for refusing to provide VIP protection to his then-girlfriend, Liabiloe Ramoholi, and for refusing to co-operate with the then Police Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, who wanted soldiers released for questioning.

Kamoli said his refusal to provide protection to Ramoholi equally upset Tšooana and damaged their working relationship. Eventually, the former police commissioner provided police protection to Liabiloe. Kamoli recounted his fear when he finally appeared before the police and was made to remain naked. “Accused number one will testify that for most of his time in detention, he was made to stay naked,” Adv. Molati said.

“During his state of nudity, there was an attempt to torture him, but he told police there would be a disturbance in the country if he was seen to be tortured on his way to the remand court.” Kamoli is charged, along with three other soldiers and politicians, Metsing and Selibe Mochoboroane, for allegedly attempting to illegally topple the government. Four of the accused, except Kamoli and Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, are out on bail.

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