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Freedom at last for Kamoli?

  • Thabane, Metsing “agree” on former army commander’s release on bail

 ’Marafaele Mohloboli

ALMOST two years after his arrest on murder and attempted murder charges, former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, could soon be freed on bail.

A truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) could also be established and exiled people who served in the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties’ coalition could also return to the country.

This after talks on Wednesday 11 September 2019 between Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

LCD spokesperson, Teboho Sekata, recently told the Sunday Express that Mr Metsing met Dr Thabane on Wednesday to demand Lt-Gen Kamoli and other detained soldiers’ release as well as the setting up of a TRC.

Mr Sekata said that Mr Metsing’s delegation included LCD legislator, Mr Sehloho Monatsi and party chairperson, Motlalepula Sello. He said Dr Thabane’s team comprised of Water Affairs Minister, Samonyane Ntsekele and Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka.

Mr Mphaka denied being part of the Wednesday talks. He however, said he “can confirm that there was a closed meeting between the two leaders (Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing) but I cannot tell what they discussed as I am not in the light”.

Mr Ntsekele’s phone rang unanswered when the Sunday Express called him for comment.

Mr Metsing had said he would meet Dr Thabane to discuss the fate of Lt-Gen Kamoli and other issues when he (Mr Metsing) addressed an LCD rally in Thaba-Phatšoa, Leribe last Sunday.

“Very soon I shall set up a meeting with Ntate Thabane to ask him why Kamoli still hasn’t been granted bail though there is an agreement in place that he and others should be released pending the finalisation of the reforms process.

“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law but why are they (Kamoli and other soldiers) still detained,” asked Mr Metsing at the Leribe rally.

It was against this background that the Wednesday meeting between Mr Metsing and Dr Thabane was reportedly held.

According to Mr Sekata, the Wednesday talks were a follow up on the demands Mr Metsing made last year as preconditions for his return from self-imposed exile to participate in the multi-sector reforms process. Mr Metsing returned to Lesotho last November, having fled the country in August 2017, allegedly after being alerted to a government plot to kill him. The government however, denied plotting to kill him, saying he had instead skipped the country to avoid prosecution for corruption.

The constitutional, security sector, media, judicial and governance reforms were recommended in 2016 by Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders as part of efforts to ensure lasting peace and stability.

For a long time, the reforms process was stalled by the bickering between the government and the opposition, particularly the then exiled Mr Metsing who listed a host of demands including the creation of a government of national unity (GNU), a TRC and the release of prisoners such as Lt-Gen Kamoli as pre-conditions for their participation in the reforms process.

Mr Metsing also demanded the return of exiled former police commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa, former Director of the National Security Services (NSS), Tumo Lekhooa, Assistant Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) Superintendent Bereng Ramahetlane and former police head of procurement, Lebohang Setsomi.

Mr Metsing has maintained that Lt-Gen Kamoli and other soldiers detained on allegations of murder and other human rights violations should not be left to rot in jail because their trials have taken too long to begin.

Commenting on the Wednesday talks between Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing, Mr Sekata said, “We agreed that all the exiled people should come back and Lt-Gen Kamoli and others should be released on bail”.

“We are not saying they (Lt-Gen Kamoli and others) should not be prosecuted but all we are saying is that since their arrest was politically motivated, they should be out on bail.

“The two parties have also agreed to have a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) as early as October 2019. The TRC will help everyone to iron out differences and bury the hatchet before embarking on other issues. So this is a very good move as it will unify us and help us heal as a nation.”

Mr Sekata denied widespread rumours that Mr Metsing and Dr Thabane had agreed a deal to bring the LCD into the governing coalition in exchange for the LCD’s support to save Dr Thabane from being ousted in no confidence vote in parliament.

Dr Thabane faces the biggest threat to his two year-old rule from his estranged All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy leader, Professor Nqosa Mahao. Only last Saturday, the pro-Mahao faction of the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) held a special conference in Maseru and “suspended” Dr Thabane from the ABC for six years. The conference also elevated Prof Mahao to the post of acting ABC leader in place of the “suspended” Dr Thabane.

On 5 June 2019, the ABC pro-Mahao Koro-Koro legislator, Motebang Koma, filed a no confidence motion against Dr Thabane. The motion is expected to be tabled and voted on as soon as parliament is re-opened. Parliament was closed indefinitely without explanation shortly after the motion was tabled, leading to widespread talk that it was closed to give Dr Thabane time to find ways of dogging the no confidence vote.

According to the rumour mill, Mr Metsing and Dr Thabane have agreed a deal that will see the former come in as second Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the security and justice cluster of ministries. LCD deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi, will come in as Police and Public Safety Minister, Advocate Thato Ntsibolane as Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister and Ms Lineo Tlali as Social Development Minister. (All three posts are currently vacant after the resignation or sacking of the former incumbents this year).

The LCD’s Mr Motlalepula Sello will come in as Deputy Minister of Police, Mr Khotso Matla as a senator, Mr Apesi Ratšele as government spokesperson, Ms ‘Maseabata Ramathebane as ambassador to Ireland, Ms Mamello Phooko and Mr Potso Shao as principal secretaries.

The survival or ouster of Dr Thabane hinges on the voting behaviour of the opposition. So far the largest opposition party, the Democratic Congress (DC) have pledged to vote with the 20 known pro-Mahao ABC legislators but Mr Metsing, whose LCD has 11 seats, is still holding out for a deal with either faction. The LCD could be the deciding factor and without their support, the Mahao camp could lose the vote. If the LCD votes with the Mahao faction and the rest of the opposition, the motion will succeed by 70 votes in the 120 member parliament.

But if the LCD’s 11 legislators vote in favour of Dr Thabane, he could survive with 61 votes out of 120.

However, Mr Sekatle denied that a deal had been agreed to bring the LCD into government in exchange for its support against the no confidence vote.

“This is just some wild rumour and it is sad that people tend to believe in everything they are told regardless of how senseless it is. The constitution only caters for one prime minister and his deputy, so how on earth can Ntate Metsing deputise the premier,” Mr Sekatle said on Friday.

Mr Metsing has sought to make the most of his new found political capital by publicly stating that he will enter into a deal with whichever ABC faction willing to agree to his demands for Lt-Gen Kamoli’s release and other issues.

Addressing LCD supporters in Qaqatu, Mohale’s Hoek last month, Mr Metsing said, “There are people whose lives are miserable because of their affiliation to the LCD”.

“Some people are in prison and the least that we can do for them is to give them assurance that we are still with them in their hard times. I will not work with anyone who wishes for Kamoli to rot in jail. And if this is the (pro-Mahao) faction’s stand (that Kamoli should rot in jail), then they should not even bother approaching me for any kind of a working deal.

“I will not strike any deal with to work with anyone as long as these soldiers are in custody. I am very clear on this issue and this is my message to anyone who is thinking of approaching me for a deal. Even if I want power, I will not attain it by selling out their (Kamoli and others’) blood especially when we have evidence that there are so many murderers who are freely roaming the streets.”

In an earlier interview with the Lesotho Times two months ago, Mr Metsing said the release of Lt-Gen Kamoli “was discussed and ventilated before the SADC Facilitator South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in a recent meeting”.

“All I can say is that he (Lt-Gen Kamoli) should not to be in jail.  More significantly, charges against him have taken so long to be consolidated and surely he must be released on bail. I still plead for justice for him and other similarly accused detainees to be released on bail,” added Mr Metsing.

Lt-Gen Kamoli retired from the army on 1 December 2016 under immense pressure from Lesotho’s regional and international development partners who demanded an end to the impunity and human rights abuses that occurred during his tenure at the helm of the army.

He was subsequently arrested in September 2017 and faces charges of murdering former army commander Lt-Gen Mahao in Mokema, Maseru on 25 June 2015.

He is co-accused with Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.

Former National Security Services (NSS) director and head of Military Intelligence, Tumo Lekhooa, was also roped in among the accused. But he has not attended any court session since he fled the country in 2017.

Lt-Gen Kamoli also faces a murder charge stemming from the 30 August 2014 killing of Police Sub-Inspector, Mokheseng Ramahloko during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014 at the Police Headquarters in Maseru. The soldiers who allegedly acted on the instructions of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli, also raided several other police stations in Maseru and seized an assortment of weapons.

Three foreign judges, namely Zimbabwean judge, Justice Charles Hungwe and the Botswana duo of Justices Onkemetse Bashi Tshosa and Kabelo Kenneth Lebotse have been recruited to preside over Lt-Gen Kamoli, Mr Mokhosi and other high profile trials involving serving and former members of the security agencies.

The trials have been postponed on several occasions with some senior judicial officers accuse Lt-Gen Kamoli and his co-accused of instituting “frivolous” lawsuits to delay the commencement of their trials in the hope that the government will collapse and be replaced by a more sympathetic one that will free them.

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