MASERU — Prime Minister Thomas Thabane says the police will “return fire with fire” when attacked in their duty to stamp out crime. Thabane told parliament on Thursday that the police have a “right to self-defence against armed criminals who rob Basotho of their opportunity to be wealthy by stealing their livestock and other properties”.
The premier was answering questions from the former home affairs assistant minister and Democratic Congress MP, Lineo Molise-Mabusela. Molise-Mabusela had asked police minister to shed light on the number of people who were brutally assaulted by the police or military during an operation called Kobo-anela.She also wanted to know the number of those who have been compensated by the government for the injuries inflicted by the police and the costs they incurred in hospital bills.
The former assistant minister also wanted to know the criteria used in selecting areas where the police operation would take place and whether the police or military took into consideration the rights of the people affected by the operation. Police Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mophato Monyake, who has since been appointed Justice Minister, was not in parliament.
So, Thabane, being directly responsible for the police and the army stood up to answer the questions. “We will return fire to those who shoot us,” Thabane said. “Sometimes we invite the army to reinforce us because these boys, the thieves, have more sophisticated weapons that the police do not have,” he said. “Their guns can only be matched by the ones the army has.”
Thabane said it was worrying that many Basotho living in the mountainous regions grow marijuana and exchange it for guns with South Africans, especially those in the Kwa-Zulu-Natal province. Thabane said the police, in the Operation Kobo-anela, are searching for such illegal firearms and in the process they get shot and in retaliation they shoot the criminals.
He said MPs should help curb the proliferation of illegal firearms if Lesotho is to reduce livestock theft. He made an example with a family in Lebakeng, Qacha’s Nek, which lost 7 000 sheep to thieves. “I visited that family and found them pitiable after thieves stole all 7 000 of their livestock, their only means of livelihood,” he said. The prime minister said the government will check if there are people who have been assaulted during police operations.
“We will make a follow-up to see who has been assaulted and who has not. As for public servants who were injured during the course of duty we have full responsibility because they were sent by us,” he said. He said they relied on tip offs from the public and chiefs on the villages they were to search during the operation. Other searches were based on intelligence gathered by police’s undercover agents.
Concerning the people’s rights, Thabane said those in the wrong “should be arrested and the police have a right to arrest them”. He however appealed to the MPs and the public to report to the authorities any police or military officer who misbehaves.
Police and the military will conduct their operations within the confines of the law, he said.
He pledged that by the end of five years he will have drastically reduced stock and car theft.