THE Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has for the first time apologised to the nation for its past transgressions which resulted in the assassinations of prominent citizens as well as ordinary Basotho and caused instability in the country.
Newly-appointed commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, on Friday apologised on behalf of the army during the LDF change of command ceremony that was held in Maseru on Friday.
Lt-Gen Letsoela said it was an open secret that during the past four years the army became a parallel government and a law unto itself, inflicting pain on the same nation it was supposed to protect.
“We had LDF members who committed some heinous acts and these marked the beginning of instability in Lesotho,” Lt-Gen Letsoela said, adding, “As the army we threatened the nation and refused to abide by the rule of law”.
“Today I am taking over the baton, fully aware of those atrocities and that most of the suspects are now before the courts of law. We are really sorry for the pain that was inflicted on families and stand here to ask for forgiveness for the army’s past transgressions.”
He said he will work hard to avoid a repeat of the senseless shootings and killings by ensuring that the army behaves itself in a manner befitting its mandate.
Lt-Gen Letsoela further said the past mistakes would be corrected by ensuring that the army remains professional, law abiding and does not encroach into politics.
“The army was created to protect the citizens of this country, it was constitutionally established to preserve peace and to support development efforts,” he said.
Lt-Gen Letsoela said all army activities, including trainings, were supported by taxpayers who have put their trust in the LDF for protection.
The appointment of Lt-Gen Letsoela came after the retirement of the acting army commander Lineo Poopa, who took temporarily over following the murder of army commander Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo on 5 September 2017.
Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was gunned down in his Ratjomose office allegedly by Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi, who were also killed minutes later during a shoot-out with Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards.
It is understood Brigadier Sechele and Colonel Hashatsi had accused Lt-Gen Motšomotšo of selling them out to the police by cooperating with the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s Commission of Inquiry recommendations.
The Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate circumstances surrounding the death of Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao, recommended that all soldiers fingered in serious crimes must be suspended and prosecuted in line with international’s best practices.
Both Brigadier Sechele and Colonel Hashatsi were fingered as main suspects in the assassination of Lt-Gen Mahao which took place on 25 June 2015 in Mokema, Maseru.
Although Lt-Gen Letsoela did not mention the “transgressions”, Lt-Gen Mahao’s assassination was widely seen as one of the atrocities committed by the army in the past few years.
The army transgressions further include the arrests, torture and detention of 22 army officials accused of munity against the command of former LDF commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.
An attempted coup by the LDF led to attacks on three police stations, including the Police Headquarters, on 30 August 2014 and this marked the beginning of the army’s transgressions.
The attack claimed the life of police Sub Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko.
The operation took place a day after Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, fired Lt-Gen Kamoli, who is now in prison after he was charged with one count of murder and 14 counts of attempted murder.
It was during this operation that the army further attacked the state house in search of Dr Thabane who had fled to South Africa, only to return a few days later under the guard of South African Police Services.
In another case, three soldiers – Private Kopano Matsoso (31), Corporal Tjekane Sebolai and Private Selone Ratšiu – are facing a murder charge for allegedly killing one Lisebo Tang, near Lt-Gen Kamoli’s residence in 2014.
The three, who were guarding the residence of the former army commander, opened fire on a car occupied by Tang and one Tsepo Jane, who suffered serious injuries.
In another court case, five soldiers – Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47), Khutlang Mochesane (57), Mahanyane Phasumane (37), Nyatso Tšoeunyane (41) and Maribe Nathane (35) – have been charged with malicious damage to property and the attempted murder of Lesotho Times Editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, at his Ha Thamae home in 2016. Mutungamiri suffered a fractured jaw, two broken fingers and other facial-related injuries.
Other soldiers – Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi (43), Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi (50), Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali (32), Private Nthatakane Motanyane (24), Brigadier Rapele Mphaki (47), Motšoane Machai (39), Liphapang Sefako (48) and Nemase Faso (28) – have been charged with three counts of murder and dumping the bodies of their victims in Mohale Dam in May 2017.