19 May 2018

Lesotho: 'Army Will Quash Indiscipline'

Photo: Lesotho Times
Members of the Lesotho Defence Force (file photo).

The government says the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) command will deal decisively with indiscipline within the ranks of the LDF.

This was said by the principal secretary in the Ministry of Defence and National Security, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times yesterday.

Col Mothae said all soldiers were expected to work harmoniously and put behind them the events of 2015 where more than 40 soldiers were accused of mutiny. The mutiny suspects were arrested, detained and tortured while others fled to South Africa.

Col Mothae's comments followed reports that there were rising tensions between the former mutiny suspects and their colleagues.

At least 22 soldiers were arrested, detained and tortured between May and July 2015 on charges of plotting to topple the command of the then army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.

Fourteen of the soldiers were also tortured in detention and forced to become state witnesses against 22 of their colleagues who were subsequently placed on open arrest during the tenure of the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led government.

Another 23 soldiers fled the country and only returned towards the end of last year. This followed the advent of the Thomas Thabane-led four parties' coalition government in the wake of the 3 June 2017 national elections.

The soldiers were accused of working in cahoots with former army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, who was later shot dead by fellow soldiers in June 2015 while allegedly resisting arrest in Mokema.

A Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry was established in the aftermath of Lt-Gen Mahao's murder and it found that there was no mutiny plot and recommended an amnesty for the suspected mutineers. It also recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.

The suspected mutineers were however, not granted an amnesty and the-then government led by Pakalitha Mosisili opted to place 22 of the soldiers on open arrest.

Some of the former mutiny suspects chose to return to the LDF and they were reintegrated into the army in February this year.

However, army sources claim that tensions are simmering between the former mutiny suspects and their colleagues who tortured them during the instability of 2015 as the latter have continued to taunt them since their reintegration early this year.

The sources say the animosity is the outcome of the government's failure to mediate between the two groups and offer the necessary counselling and pyscho-social support that would have helped both sides to bury the hatchet.

This week sources suggested that a potential war is brewing between the two groups as the suspected mutineers continue to suffer at the hands of their suspected torturers.

"We were promised that there would be a mediation exercise between the two groups as part of efforts to ensure that we iron out our issues and forge a new working relationship, forgetting about the past. That has not happened even today and the torturers continually tease the suspected mutineers," a source said.

Another source said the taunts were reopening the old wounds for the suspected mutineers and that the tension between the two groups was escalating.

"Something needs to be done urgently because the situation may soon explode. The suspected mutineers are increasingly losing their patience and want the matter to be addressed as soon as possible to ensure peace," the source said.

Rtd Col Mothae yesterday said while they had not received reports about the alleged tensions, they expects all soldiers to obey orders and work in harmony.

He said army commander Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela made clear his intentions of uniting the army when he assumed the command earlier this year.

He said the deputy army commander Major General Matela Matobakele, Major General Poqa Motoa and other officers had returned to the army as part of an exercise that would help correct past mistakes.

Major Generals Matobakele and Motoa were among the soldiers that fled the country. They were also detained and tortured.

Rtd Col Mothae said the ongoing unification exercise was massive and that the training framework submitted to SADC was developed by the army command.

"Soldiers are under command, they just have to deal with that because the command message is saying we are one. We are a team and we are a family. Let us forget the past, yes it may not be easy to forget but we should forgive so that we are able to heal.

"Nobody is going to come from anywhere to heal anyone. They have to forgive and forget but they have to heal themselves and accept the past.

"Reconciliation is both ways - those who committed these atrocities and those who were tortured and badly treated. People must accept that they did the wrong things.

"The command is very clear that anyone found to be reengineering some of these past atrocities will be in serious trouble. He (the commander) is also seriously working towards ensuring that the military is accountable to the nation and answerable to the leadership of the day," Rtd Col Mothae said.

He added: "Anything that would cause tension will not be accepted and I can assure you that the army command will not stand by and let that happen".

Rtd Col Mothae said the reintegration of the soldiers was ongoing and the next step would be to take the soldiers through a number of exercises that make up the whole process.

He said there was a team in the LDF that has been established to oversee the integration. He said the Christian Council of Lesotho and the Transformation Resource Centre undertook to counsel both the members of the LDF and their families.

"We have embarked on training activities led by the SAMPIL in Lesotho. Reintegration on its own is a long process where we would now have to ensure that we create an environment where individuals trust each other and reconcile. The command of the LDF is taking it as their priority to ensure that all members of LDF work together," Rtd Col Mothae said.

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