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Kamoli, Mahao never saw eye to eye: Poopa

 

Moorosi Tsiane

FORMER army commanders, Tlali Kamoli and the late Maaparankoe Mahao never saw eye to eye and constantly fought over promotions and seniority, a retired senior soldier has said.

Retired Major General Lineo Poopa said this while testifying in Kamoli and others’ trial for the June 2015 murder of Lieutenant-General (Lt-Gen) Mahao.

He said this in response to lead prosecutor Shaun Abrahams who had asked him to explain events that led to Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder.

Lt-Gen Kamoli is accused alongside Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tsitso Ramoholi.

They are also accused of attempting to murder Lt-Gen Mahao’s nephews, Mahao Mahao and Mabilikoe Leuta, by shooting at the vehicle in which they were passengers.

The accused are further charged with damaging Lt-Gen Mahao’s vehicle during the same operation by firing at it with an automatic rifle and theft of his 9mm pistol and Samsung Galaxy mobile phone.

Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander on 29 August 2014 after then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired Kamoli for insubordination.

Kamoli challenged the dismissal and allegedly staged a coup attempt in August 2014, triggering a chain of events that culminated in the snap elections of February 2015 which ushered in a seven-party coalition under Pakalitha Mosisili.

Kamoli and his co-accused claim that Lt-Gen Mahao was shot and killed while resisting lawful arrest for allegedly leading a mutiny against Kamoli, who had been restored to the army command.

Major-Gen Poopa, who is the 35th witness in the Mahao trial, on Friday said Kamoli and Lt-Gen Mahao did not see eye to eye for a long time.

“I can’t really say what was happening but it appeared that whatever it is that caused the animosity between them happened when they were still in Botswana on a SADC mission.

“One day in a meeting Mahao told Major General Khoantle Motšomotšo, Kamoli and I, that our promotions were suspicious because he became Brigadier before us but we were made Major Generals before him. Kamoli did not take that lying down as he always talked about it. He said Mahao could not say that about us since he found us already in the LDF holding ranks,” said Maj-Gen Poopa.

He said tensions between the two escalated after Kamoli heard that he was going to be expelled as army chief with Lt-Gen Mahao taking over.

Maj-Gen Poopa said the late Captain Tefo Hashatsi, who was a Kamoli loyalist, told Lt-Gen Mahao that he would only become LDF’s Commander over his dead body.

“It all started when Captain Tefo Hashatsi told his battalion of Special Forces that he had heard over different media platforms that Mahao was tipped to take over from Kamoli as LDF Commander and that would happen over his dead body.

“Mahao heard about that and he went to confront Hashatsi at Makoanyane Barracks. He told him that he should stop misleading the special forces as the appointment of the LDF commander is done by the government and nobody should interfere with that.

“Hashatsi told him (Mahao) that he doesn’t take instructions from him and he reported him to Maj-Gen Motšomotšo, who was left in command as Kamoli was away in Rwanda. The following day, Motšomotšo informed me that he wants to suspend Mahao because of the things he said to Hashatsi. I was then instructed that I make sure Mahao leaves the compound when the suspension letter was still being finalised.  Kamoli should have known about that suspension because Motšomotšo was still reporting to him daily,” Major-Gen Poopa said.

He said after Kamoli returned from Rwanda, he assembled the Court Martial and appointed him as its president. Lieutenant Colonel Matobo was the judge while Brigadier Bulane Sechele was the prosecutor and Major Sello his assistant.

The appointment of the Court Martial was during Thomas Thabane’s reign as prime minister and Minister of Defence and National Security.

“I don’t know whether he (Thabane) had delegated his powers to Lt-Gen Kamoli to constitute a Court Martial.

“The Court Martial convened with both Mahao and Hashatsi taking the stand but during the process something very unusual happened; I received a letter from Thabane ordering that we should dismantle the Court Martial with immediate effect.

“I was very surprised because it was not Thabane who wrote me the letter to convene the Court Martial. However, I adjourned the Court and went to Kamoli and showed him the letter and he said he was going to talk to the Premier. He did that and later returned with a different letter instructing that we should carry on with the Court Martial so we continued until both the prosecution and defense had closed their cases,” Major-Gen Poopa said.

Maj-Gen Poopa said he was supposed to get a report from Judge Lieutenant Colonel Matobo but that did not happen.

A ruling was never made as the issue was over taken by the events of the 30 August 2014 where the army reportedly attacked some police stations in and around Maseru.

“Early hour in that day I got a call from Deputy Commissioner of Police Masupha Masupha who asked where I was. I told him I was at my place sleeping and he said how come I was sleeping when the army was attacking police stations and I told him I wasn’t aware of that.

“Shortly after, I received a call from Motšomotšo who said Kamoli had ordered that we report at Ratjomose wearing our camouflage (which is a battle order). Now I got to understood the link between DCP Masupha’s call and Kamoli’s order. I did as I was told and reported at Ratjomose where I found Motšomotšo in Kamoli’s office. Both were dressed in camouflage. Kamoli was talking to Lieutenant Colonel Teboho Ramoepana who was dressed in civilian clothes. He (Colonel Ramoepana) was commander of one of the battalions and he was explaining how Thabane had escaped from the State House.

Maj-Gen Poopa further told the court that Lt-Gen Kamoli then told him and Major General Motšomotšo that he was going to take Thabane, (minister Thesele) Maseribane and (Mothejoa) Metsing to His Majesty to reprimand them for things they had been doing.

“He (Lt-Gen Kamoli) didn’t say what the trio did. I did not confront him because there was no such platform. I was confused because there was no threat as far as I knew. Kamoli told us that they were attacking the (Lesotho Mounted Police Service) LMPS because they were going to give All Basotho Convention (ABC) youth some weapons. He said he had received that information from intelligence officials and I was left confused because I remembered there was a time when ABC youths wanted to march and they were denied a permit by police. LDF then released a statement through their public relations officer, Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi, saying LDF was supporting the police on their decision to deny the ABC youths permission to picket,” Major-Gen Poopa said.

He added that Kamoli returned later on the day and “I was surprised that some of the units under my command were part of that operation, yet I was not informed”.

“For such an operation to be planned with the inclusion of my troops without my knowledge, it was very clear to see that Kamoli didn’t trust me.”

Maj-Gen Poopa further told the court that he learnt over the radio that Kamoli had been fired as army chief but the latter was adamant that he was still in charge as he had never received a letter to that effect from Mr Thabane.

“Later that day we heard over the radio from government spokesperson (Thabo Thakalekoala) that Thabane was out of the country and that there was a new gazette releasing Kamoli from his duties and the one appointing Mahao as the new commander. But Kamoli insisted that he hadn’t received any letter and that the spokesperson was lying. I believed him (Kamoli) because I trusted him.”

Maj-Gen Poopa said the following day they heard that army commanders from SADC countries were at Moshoeshoe I Airport and wanted to see Kamoli.

“He said he would go with Motšomotšo but in the meantime Ntoi should give me a press release which I would read to the media and show them guns which were seized from police stations. The statement also contained the ABC youth march story,” he added.

The case will continue on 30 May 2022 with Maj-Gen Poopa continuing to give his evidence.

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