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Gun battle at LDF commander’s home

by Sunday Express
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…Police investigate shooting incident which left the guard commander injured

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE police and the army have launched investigations to discover the identity and motives of a group of men who engaged in a shootout with the guards of army commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, outside his Naleli home in Berea on Thursday morning.

The incident which left Lt-Gen Letsoela’s guard commander with severe injuries comes barely seven months after two senior soldiers stormed the Ratjomose Barracks of offices of the-then army commander, Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo, and shot him dead in cold blood on 5 September 2017.

An army statement released on Friday indicates that a group of suspicious looking men ignored a call by the army boss’ guard to identify themselves.

The men had walked past the guardroom carrying what looked like heavily laden bags whose contents are still unknown and this prompted the guards to issue a challenge to them.

“While on guard duties at residence of the Chief of Defence Staff (during the early hours of Thursday), the LDF sentry suspected a group of men who walked past their guardroom carrying heavily laden bags,” the LDF said in a statement on Friday.

“The sentry gave the challenge, however, the men ignored him. The guard commander along with one of his soldiers decided to make a follow-up for some distance.

“Eventually the men opened fire, wounding the guard commander and fled the scene. He (the guard commander) was rushed to hospital where he is in a stable condition.”

LDF spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Mashili Mashili said the matter was reported to the police and investigations are on-going.

Lt-Col Mashili called on the public to assist with any information which would help the police to apprehend the suspects who escaped unscathed from the shootout.

Another LDF official identified as Captain Lekola yesterday told this publication that there were no further updates on the Thursday incident.

He would not be drawn into saying whether or not the incident was in any way linked to the instability that has rocked the country and resulted in the assassinations of previous army commanders, saying, “It is only fair to let the police complete their investigations”.

For his part, Police Spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, confirmed the shooting incident, telling the Sunday Express that “we have received such a report and investigations pertaining to the incident are underway”.

Lesotho has witnessed the assassinations of two army commanders in the space of two years beginning with the June 2015 murder of Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao.

Lt-Gen Mahao was ambushed and shot by his peers from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) near his farm in Mokema on 25 June 2015.

His widely condemned killing kick-started a chain of events that resulted in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) establishing a commission of inquiry to probe the murder and the instability in Lesotho.

The LDF claimed at the time that Lt-Gen Mahao had been shot while resisting arrest over an alleged mutiny plot.  However, the army’s version was dismissed as untrue by both the soldier’s family and the SADC commission of inquiry headed by retired judge, Mphaphi Phumaphi.

Lt-Gen Mahao’s family accused the army of killing him in cold blood, based on the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.

Justice Phumaphi’s 10-member commission carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.

Two years later on 5 September 2017, the nation was plunged into a fresh bout of instability when Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was gunned down by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi at his Ratjomose Barracks offices in Maseru.

While it remains unclear what was contained in the suspects’ “heavily laden bags” on Thursday, a confidential report by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) warned of missing arms of war that could be used by rogue soldiers to launch reprisal attacks as efforts to hold them accountable for past transgressions intensify.

The report speaks of arms of war and ammunition missing from the armoury of the LDF as well as AK47 rifles that disappeared from the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS).

It is suspected that all these arms are in the possession of rogue elements of the LDF who might want to use them to launch reprisal attacks, heightening instability in the Kingdom.

Even though there is a semblance of stability since Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, was returned to power in the June 3 2017 elections, the report nonetheless warns of the possibility of “reprisal attacks and other acts of instability” due to residual tensions and deeply rooted divisions among the government, opposition parties and the security sector, especially the army which SADC accused of continuing to harbour “rogue soldiers”.

The confidential report, obtained by this publication, was compiled ahead of the deployment of SADC troops to foster a conducive atmosphere for the implementation of the regional body’s recommendations to secure the country’s long term stability.

The SADC standby force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL), was deployed to Lesotho on 2 December, 2017. The standby force is made of 217 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 13 civilian experts.

Early this year, the SADC Oversight Committee Chairperson, Matias Bertino Matondo, warned Basotho on the perils of chronic instability.

He said there was need to engage in a serious soul-searching exercise to establish why Lesotho is the only one, out of 15 regional countries, to continuously endure an unstable political climate in which governments do not last full terms and army commanders are killed by subordinates.

And even though there is a semblance of stability since Dr Thomas was returned to power in the June 2017 elections, Dr Matondo said the standby force was necessary to maintain stability while Lesotho embarked on crucial reforms to ensure lasting peace which was crucial to socio-economic development.

Dr Matondo said the public should not be deceived by the fact that people were going on with their business as usual as there could be simmering tensions below the surface which could destroy the peace.

“I have been telling our colleagues, brothers and sisters from the Kingdom of Lesotho that everything is peaceful until something happens and when things happen, they come unannounced,” Dr Matondo said.

“I have been telling them that a single bullet to somebody’s head- God forbids- can disrupt the whole (reforms) process. We should not take things at face value and be deceived by the fact that people are going on with their business as usual,” Dr Matondo said.

 

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