Lesotho: Army Boss Calls for State of Emergency to Clamp Down On Killers

(file photo)

DEPUTY army commander, Major General Matela Matobakele, has called upon the legislature to consider imposing a three-month state of emergency to empower the army to sweep across the country and curb rampant murders gripping the nation.

This the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) would achieve partly by launching swooping search and seizure raids to seize illegal firearms that are being used in the skyrocketing murder rates and rounding up known killers in the process.

Maj-Gen Matobakele spoke as the police ministry announced a mother and her two kids had been brutally murdered in Mahloenyeng in the outskirts of Maseru with three people now in custody over the gruesome killings.

Something akin to a state of emergency for a three-month period would help the army swoop across the country and end murders without being inhibited by the dictates of the law, Maj-Gen Matobakele said.

"I therefore ask you (legislature) to suspend the law for three months and allow us to work. We will get this nation in order. This (rampant killings) has to stop. I don't want to stand in front of a grieving family like this again...," said Maj-Gen Matobakele at the weekend at the burial of five members of a single family killed in suspected Famo revenge killings in Fobane village, Leribe.

The tough-talking Maj-Gen Matobakele said sometimes extraordinary situations required extraordinary measures. The growing killings, which had now catapulted Lesotho into the ranks of the top six most homicidal nations in the world, according to the World Population Review, would not end without the army being afforded sweeping powers to curb the scourge.

Maj-Gen Matobakele has previously advocated for the army to play a more critical role in ending crime in Lesotho because "Lesotho had no police force worth talking about". The army's deputy boss, who was once exiled and returned to assume the number two position in the army after the June 2017 snap elections, drew the ire of former Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro when he frankly condemned the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS)'s ineffectiveness and general uselessness under then commissioner Holomo Molibeli.

Dr Majoro had reportedly urged Maj-Gen Matobakele to apologise to Mr Molibeli as the ex-premier tried to adjoin the security agencies to work together to fight crime.

As he addressed the grieving mourners at the weekend, Maj-Gen Matobakele seemed to reiterate again that the police were ineffective and only the army could end the scourge of killings that now resemble a virtual civil war with no week passing by without grisly murders being reported from somewhere around the country. But for the army to achieve that, it would need to be empowered with draconian powers for just three months, without being inhibited by regular laws which seemed to benefit criminals.

He pleaded with the parliament to enact a state of emergency or any other sunset law to allow the army to eradicate the high murder rates paralysing the nation.

A sunset law is a regulation which is enacted for temporary redress of a situation and ceases to be effective after a specified date.

The army would only need three months to clean the country like it did in Mozambique where it successfully "wiped off" jihadists known as Ansar Al Sunna wa Jammah who had been terrorising the northern parts of that country, Maj-Gen Matobakele said.

LDF troops have been part of a SADC peacekeeping mission in Mozambique since August 2021 and will be back in the country in July when the mission ends.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Limpho Tau, said the government would consider Maj-Gen Matobakele's request, only if it complies with the prescripts of the Constitution.

However, the leader of the opposition in parliament, Mathibeli Mokhothu, rubbished the request, saying the army should operate within the confines of the LDF Act which governed its operations.

A three-month sunset law or state of emergency would most likely result in human rights abuses, the Democratic Congress (DC) leader warned. He had also berated Prime Minister Matekane's government of lacking a coherent strategy of how to deal with crime.

While addressing mourners, Maj-Gen Matobakele said the army was helping in tracking the murderers who had shot and killed the five family members. He seemed to suggest the army already had firm information about them.

"Luckily, we know where they (killers) came from, the registrations of the vehicles which were used in the shootings and some of their faces. Although they are not in the country now, we will use our ways to hunt them down. We have given them the message to surrender themselves to the police. I cannot tell you names because that will hurt you more, leave that for us to resolve," he said while insisting the best way forward was to give the army sweeping powers to end the high crime levels.

"My plea is to the legislature to make a law (state of emergency), even if it lasts for just three months, to allow the soldiers to work.

"We have been to Mozambique where it was more dangerous than here, and where we were dealing with heavily armed people, but we prevailed. We put the jihadists in their place. But here we let people do as they please because we say the law protects them?"

"We just need a law that will allow us to work and we only need three months to do that," Maj-Gen Matobakele said.

Mr Tau said the government would sanction Maj-Gen Matobakele's call only if it was within the confines of the law and the constitution.

"Civil servants render services on behalf of the government regardless of whether it is the army, police or correctional service. When they execute their mandates and come across certain obstacles that hampers their mandates, they have a right to come back to the government for help through its appropriate structures to ease their work.

"The government will then look into their requests and if it finds the requests proper and within the confines of the constitution, it will do what it can to sanction them.

"It is their (LDF) responsibility to formally ask the government to provide the legislative requirements to facilitate their work," Mr Tau said.

For his part, Mr Mokhothu rejected the request for extra sunset measures outright. He said the existing LDF Act was enough to regulate the army.

"Lesotho Defence Force has its own Act that governs them on how to do their operations and the constitution is also clear on how they have to operate when they help the Lesotho Mounted Police Services (LMPS).

"They know what they have to do, so there is no need to make another law. They should just focus on their work. The law is clear on how they can work with the LMPS," Mr Mokhothu said.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police, Lebona Lephema, issued a statement this week condemning the rampant murders. He said the security agencies had formed a team to halt the increasing murders.

"The government is aware of the rising murders where guns are used to kill people. For instance, the recent murders at Fobane, Mahloenyeng and other places in the country where shocking.....

"The LMPS has found a breakthrough on the investigations regarding murders that happened in Mahloenyeng by arresting three suspects who allegedly killed a woman and her two children.

"There is big hope on the investigations regarding the Fobane murders following evidence that has been collected. Initial investigations of the LMPS points to people who are affiliated to the blanketed Famo groups also called Makhomosha.

"In an effort to stop these rampant killings, the government through security agencies has formed a team called Operation Fiela (sweep) 2024.

"It is through this campaign that we were able to arrest more than 30 suspects in less than a month," Mr Lephema said.

Mr Mokhothu had also at the weekend condemned the government over its silence amid the spiralling crime rates. He said it was shocking that the government was not saying a word to reassure the nation about what it was doing to combat crime.

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