17 November 2017

Lesotho Defence Force Speaks On Assassination Plot Claim

THE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) says an allegation that the agency hatched a plan to assassinate Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Director, Tsikoane Peshoane, is patently false.

The LDF has also repudiated the "insinuation" that it stole a laptop of a TRC staffer in 2015 who was going to Gambia to attend the ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights.

Mr Peshoane told the Lesotho Times' sister paper, Sunday Express, that he was tipped off by a "high ranking LDF officer" last Friday of a plot to assassinate him.

The TRC director said the source also indicated that his movements were being monitored by the LDF.

He said the civil society organisation topped the agenda in a LDF management meeting that was held on Monday last week, according to the source. The meeting by the army "top brass" had resolved to "manage" the civil society organisation in light of its "influential role" on the government's decisions with regards to the military, the TRC boss was told.

Mr Peshoane said he was also informed that the meeting was chaired by an officer who was part of the court martial for soldiers accused of mutiny.

"I was told that the meeting is usually convened for the army top-brass to update each other on their activities," he said.

"This time around, there was a suggestion that the TRC should be managed as it seems to be very influential in the government's decisions with regards to the army."

Mr Peshoane said the TRC played a role in the return of 23 LDF members from exile in South Africa last month.

Some of the officers fled the country from as far back as 2014 citing threats to their lives from their colleagues. Others skipped Lesotho in 2015, after being accused of plotting to violently remove the LDF command led by then commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.

Between May and June 2015, the LDF arrested 22 officers whom the agency accused of mutiny. However, a South African Development Community inquiry into Lesotho's instability concluded that there was no mutiny plot and recommended an amnesty for the suspected mutineers.

The 45 mutiny-accused soldiers were earlier this year sent on an indefinite leave of absence to give them time to decide whether or not they want to continue as members of the security agency.

The government also postponed the mutiny court-martial to next year. The TRC and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace have since called on Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to recall the court martial to formally discharge soldiers accused of mutiny.

Mr Peshoane said the TRC's activism on behalf of the mutiny accused soldiers could have incensed some LDF members adding that they suspected the agency of being behind the disappearance of a laptop belonging to the civil society organisation's staffer.

"As one of our staffers was going to Banjul to attend the ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights in 2015, his laptop was mysteriously stolen in his car," the TRC director said.

"The bulk of his presentation was on the violations by the LDF. The laptop was never recovered. So this is not new at all."

In a statement issued yesterday by Lieutenant-Colonel Clifford Mashili of the LDF's Public Affairs Office, the security agency says the intention of the "so-called source" was to sully the image of the LDF.

"While the LDF may not have the benefit of identifying the so-called 'source', and the motive of telling Mr Peshoane such a lie, first, we wish to inform the readership of Sunday Express newspaper, the Basotho nation and the entire international community that the LDF Command has not, and will never ever conspire to assassinate Mr Peshoane or any other person in his organisation," reads part of the statement.

"Secondly, the LDF Command wishes to seize this opportunity to allay Mr Peshoane's fears that in as far as the LDF is concerned, there is no harm intended to his person or any of his fellow staff members. Besides, the LDF Command deeply regrets Mr Peshoane's insinuation that the LDF had a hand in the alleged theft of a laptop back in 2015."

The LDF also reaffirms its commitment to adhering to civilian control and to "abide by the tenets of democracy and rule of law".

". . . the LDF Command committedly works in close cooperation with, among others, the Lesotho Government, the TRC and other stakeholders to help bring back home the soldiers who had fled the country, and also in finding an amicable solution in regard to mutiny suspects. It is against this background that the LDF Command wishes to reiterate its reassurance to Mr Peshoane that it does not harbour any grudges against him or anyone of his staff members," adds the statement.

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