Letsoela vows to weed out ‘rogue’ soldiers

RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE

MASERU – The commander of the national army, Lieutenant General (Lt. Gen.) Mojalefa Letsoela, has vowed to pursue a group of soldiers within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) that he accuses of insubordination. Lt. Gen. Letsoela’s chilling warning comes in the wake of a legal challenge by 12 members of the army over what they label their unlawful 2014 arrest and detention.

Lt. Gen. Letsoela denies this claim. The commander made the undertaking to go after the “rogue soldiers” in his remarks on Thursday last week as the army took to streets to demonstrate their readiness for deployment to the Republic of Mozambique to help quell insurgency in the country.

Letsoela did not make specific reference to the 12 soldiers but hinted that those soldiers up for the Mozambican deployment would be leaving at a time when elements of insubordination, idling and boredom are manifesting within the defence force. He ordered those leaving not to look back “but leave issues of the courts to me, I will work on them, that is how democracy is. It can be painful and mean a lot of things when exercised by men in uniform.”

The soldiers are demanding compensation from the army, and have each claimed millions of Maloti for torture, pain and loss, unlawful detention and economic loss in incidents that apparently happened during and after an attempted coup against former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane’s coalition government in 2014.

The soldiers had initially approached the court collectively, but withdrew their joint bid and filed individual applications after the LDF command took issue with their collective claim. The soldiers were later suspended. In their letters of suspension, the LDF commander said “my concern is that a meeting, conference or any assembly of person’s subject to LDF laws may be constructed as mutiny more so where such a combination appears to undermine the command, control and cohesion of the organisation.”

The soldiers then challenged their suspension. In an affidavit responding to the soldiers, Letsoela accuses them of identifying themselves as a faction within the LDF and meeting with politicians, wherein promises unknown to the LDF were made. He says their conduct warrants investigation. “…the applicants have grouped themselves and identified themselves as a faction within LDF that has been persecuted by this noble organisation. There is no doubt that in order to free themselves they had to organise themselves. They tell this court that they met politicians together with some in military where certain promises were made.”

Contrary to the soldiers’ claims that they were tortured, Letsoela contends this is untrue saying, instead, that the group is in a desperate attempt to have a promise made politicians met. “These exiles, as they call themselves, are untruthful to the court when they allege kidnapping and torture, they have realised that the promise was not forthcoming and, as the result, they met at some place to organise a way to overcome the breach of the promise made by the politicians. The kidnapping, torture or any inhuman treatment alleged by applicants is denied…”

According to the commander, a Board of Inquiry (BOI) is best placed to establish circumstances surrounding the court application about this group of soldiers. He says the soldiers’ actions constitute a security threat, whether lawful or unlawful, as long as their meeting was held without the command’s knowledge. “An act of collective insubordination in which troops revolt against lawfully constituted authority is prohibited. The army has a daily roll call whereat matters of concern or any request is reported to the superiors.

“Such procedures are intended to address soldiers’ problems and ensure smooth running of the army so soldiers are prohibited to join together in actions that are against the command or institution.” Public Eye has since established that the soldiers are already appearing before the Board of Inquiry as established on July 9. “I, Lt Gen Mojalefa Letsoela, Chief of Staff, Lesotho Defence Force hereby convene a Board of Inquiry (BOI) in terms of Section 126 (1) (d) of the LDF Act No 4 of 1996, read with the relevant parts of Part VI of the Defence Force (discipline) Regulations No 29 of 1998,” reads the instrument establishing the board in part.

The BOI will probe how some officers and soldiers appear to have held meetings or communicated in other ways to collectively undermine the command of the defence force by conspiring to institute action for damages without exhausting internal channels of redress.

The instrument further states that “the manner and timing of the move is of concern to LDF high command and all other members of the defence force who appreciate the importance of cohesion at this critical moment of defence force transformation process…”

Brigadier ’Matumelo Ramoqopo heads the BOI as president, while Colonel Senatla Damane, Lieutenant Colonel Motontolo Rakhoro, Lt. Col. Motseki Kanetsi and Major Moeketsi Michael Masehle are members.

They are expected to submit its findings, opinions and recommendations to the Chief of Defence Staff upon completion of the inquiry. The dozen unsuccessfully challenged their suspension and interdiction of the BOI when High Court judge, Justice Moroke Mokhesi, refused to grant their interim prayers a fortnight ago. He ruled that they stand no harm in appearing before the inquiry, having also been suspended with fully pay. Instead, he ordered them to appear before court on August 5 to set the date of hearing so their case can be heard to finality.

In his answering affidavit, the commander contends that the military practice, philosophy and discipline and the law does not allow members of the army to intrude into the security of the institution when exercising any of their rights and that military law prohibits grouping two or more members to challenge a lawful command.

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