THE Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS)'s investigation of three army officers implicated in the killing of a woman near the home of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, was the "spark" that ignited the brazen Tuesday morning gun battle which resulted in the killing of LDF commander Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo, the Lesotho Times can reveal.
Contrary to widespread speculation that Lt-Gen Motšomotšo's killers, Colonel Tefo Hashatsi and Brigadier Bulane Sechele, muscled their way into the army commander's office at Ratjomose barracks, they were allowed to enter while armed by the LDF commander's security detail owing to their status as senior officers who enjoyed regular access to their boss.
This is according to Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Lesego Makgothi, who also revealed that Col Hashatsi and Brig Sechele had come to confront Lt-Gen Motšomotšo on the issue of the three LDF members who were being interrogated by the police over the 10 May 2014 shooting of Lisebo Tang and Tšepo Jane near Lt-Gen Kamoli's Ha Leqele residence.
Ms Tang was killed when the car she was sitting in with Mr Jane was peppered with bullets by LDF members guarding the home of Lt-Gen Kamoli. She died on the scene of shooting, with Mr Jane sustaining serious injuries and taken to the Makoanyane Military Hospital. A police report stated that the vehicle in which they were sitting was shot 123 times by the soldiers guarding Lt-General Kamoli's premises.
Police spokesperson, Inspector Mpiti Mopeli, yesterday confirmed that the three LDF members were being interrogated at the time of the attack and were released thereafter.
Mr Makgothi said Col Hashatsi and Brig Sechele expressed concern that they were not being "protected" from prosecution by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
"The three officers who were being investigated by the police for some criminal activities sparked the whole thing. It was the spark because the alleged killers (Col Hashatsi and Brig Sechele) actually went to Lt-Gen Motšomotšo's office over the matter," the Foreign Minister said in an interview yesterday.
Mr Makgothi said the duo did not struggle to enter Lt-Gen Motšomotšo's office, which is in a two-storey complex, owing to their status as senior officers.
"Being senior officers, they (Col Hashatsi and Brig Sechele) went in and were given the complimentary salute and went through the scanning process which detected that they had firearms.
"But since they were high ranking officers, the junior officers (manning the scanning machine) did not ask them to leave their firearms behind. So they went in, and when they entered the general's office, they exchanged a few words with him."
The minister said Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was with a public relations officer "who saw everything happening".
"And they (Col Hashatsi and Brig Sechele) said to the general why are you leaving us in the hands of the police? We are not feeling safe, so we have told those three guys not to go to the police.
"The general responded saying if you still don't understand what is happening, please wait outside a bit so that I call you in to clarify why we have to do this."
Mr Makgothi said Lt-Gen Motšomotšo explained to the duo that the investigation was in line with the decisions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which had called for a probe of LDF members implicated in acts of criminality.
The SADC decisions stem from recommendations made by a Commission of Inquiry established by the regional bloc following the fatal shooting of former LDF commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, by his former colleagues in June 2015.
Led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana, the commission probed the circumstances surrounding Lt-Gen Mahao's killing and the root causes for Lesotho's perennial instability.
The Phumaphi Commission recommended that the government investigate Lt-Gen Mahao's killing and prosecute those found responsible.
It also recommended the suspension of LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into the allegations proceeded in line with international best practice.
"This (investigation) is in fulfilment of a mandate by SADC. We cannot, this time around, overlook it. We have to follow it through," Lt-Gen Motšomotšo had told Messrs Hashatsi and Sechele, according to Mr Makgothi.
"However, everything is going to be done according to the book. But if you don't feel safe, just wait outside and I will call you."
The minister said one of the two officers (Brig Sechele) then took out a firearm and fatally shot Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.
"The other one (Col Hashatsi) went out quickly after the general was shot and did not have a firearm with him. The (Lt-Gen Motšomotšo's) bodyguards were a little bit perplexed because they had heard gunshots.
"And when the second one (Brig Sechele) came out with his firearm up in the air, that is when they realised that something had happened and exchange fire and he was shot and he died on the spot.
"The other one (Col Hashatsi) was about 15 metres away and got caught in a hail of bullets. But he did not die immediately. They took him to the hospital to stabilise him."
Mr Makgothi continued: "The one who died on the ground floor (Brig Sechele) had a hand grenade with him. They also found a hand grenade on the second one, but it was covered in stones at the corner of the general's office."
Meanwhile, Ministry of Defence and National Security Principal Secretary, Tanki Mothae, told the Lesotho Times yesterday that an LDF officer was detained in connection with the Tuesday attack.
"The LDF officer was not part of the attackers, but was seen in the vicinity. So he has been detained to help the police establish exactly what happened," he said.
The Lesotho Times is informed by other sources in the LDF that Col Hashatsi and Brig Sechele had been branding Lt-Gen Motšomotšo a "sell out" for cooperating with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
Lt-Gen Motšomotšo had replaced Lt-Gen Kamoli in December 2016 after sustained pressure from the international community for his removal in line with SADC recommendations.
Since Dr Thabane's return to power, after the 3 June 2017 elections, Lt-Gen Motšomotšo had been cooperating with the premier. He was now facilitating the LMPS investigations of numerous members of the LDF involved in atrocities under Lt-Gen Kamoli's tenure including those who bombed the homes of Dr Thabane's wife MaIsiah Thabane and the LMPS commissioner Khothatso Tšooana in January 2014.