A TEAM of Southern African Development Community (SADC) ballistic experts is assisting the police with investigations into the murder of former army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, the SADC Oversight Committee Chairperson, Matias Bertino Matondo, has said.
Dr Matondo recently made the revelations in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express’ sister publication, the Lesotho Times, saying the assistance rendered by the ballistic experts was in line with the regional bloc’s quest to help Lesotho achieve lasting peace and stability as envisioned in the SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL) blueprint.
SAPMIL also known as the SADC standby force 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.
A confidential SADC report that was prepared ahead of the deployment of the SADC force and seen by this publication, stated that the latter had a mandate of “creating a sufficiently secure, stable and peaceful environment conducive for the rule of law necessary for the implementation of the security sector reforms and the recommendations of the SADC”.
One of the 2016 recommendations by a commission of inquiry of inquiry established by the regional bloc was that Lesotho investigates and prosecutes those responsible for the assassination of Lt-Gen Mahao.
Lt-Gen Mahao was fatally shot by his erstwhile LDF colleagues on 25 June, 2015 just outside Maseru. The LDF claimed Lt-Gen Mahao had resisted arrest for allegedly leading a mutiny when he was killed but the SADC inquiry dismissed that claim as bogus.
Lt-Gen Mahao’s family accused the army of killing him in cold blood basing on the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.
Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed as LDF commander on 29 August 2014 after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired Retired Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli for alleged insubordination. However, Rtd Lt-Gen Kamoli rejected the dismissal challenging its legitimacy.
After Dr Thabane relinquished power in the wake of the 28 February 2015 snap elections, the seven-party coalition government led by Pakalitha Mosisili reinstated Lt-Gen Kamoli, arguing that his dismissal and Lt-Gen Mahao’s promotion were illegal.
Lt Gen Kamoli was reinstated in a Government Gazette dated 21 May 2015 with another gazette issued on the same day terminating Lt-Gen Mahao’s appointment as LDF commander and reverting him to a brigadier.
Lt-Gen Mahao challenged his demotion in the High Court with the case not seeing the light of day after he was killed on 25 June 2015 by his LDF colleagues.
After two years without any movement on the case, eight soldiers were arrested and they have since appeared before the Magistrates’ Court. They have been attending remand hearings before the same court every two weeks.
The eight army officers are 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.
In an interview with this publication this week, Dr Matondo said some of the SAPMIL personnel were assisting the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) to “reconstruct all the events surrounding the death of Lt-Gen Mahao” as part of efforts to ensure exhaustive investigations.
“In our engagement with the police on the investigations of the circumstances surrounding the death of Lt-Gen Mahao, our ballistic detective officers are assisting their counterparts from the LMPS to reconstruct all the events involving the death of Lt-Gen Mahao,” Dr Matondo said.
In 2016, ballistic experts from South Africa were denied access to material evidence which included weapons used in the killing, the vehicle used to transport the deceased from the scene of crime and his personal belongings such as a side firearm, two mobile phones and spectacles. All that changed when the Pakalitha Mosisili regime, under whose reign Lt-Gen Mahao was murdered, was booted out office in the June 3 2017 snap elections.
In another development, Dr Matondo said they were working tirelessly to ensure that the standby force did not violate the cultural norms of Basotho or engage in any morally reprehensible behaviour during their tour of duty in the country.
Some sections of society have previously expressed fears that there could be a repeat of the 1998 episode wherein some SADC troops reportedly lured local women into sexual liaisons in exchange for money and foodstuffs.
This followed the September 1998 deployment of 1000 SADC soldiers from South Africa and Botswana “to intervene militarily in Lesotho to prevent any further anarchy and to create a stable environment for the restoration of law and order”.
However, Dr Matondo promised that SADC would ensure there would be no repeat of the 1998 incidents.
“We want to leave this place safe in the knowledge that we helped our brothers and sisters from Lesotho to the best of our abilities. I am not going to promise that we are going to be 100 percent clean because when you put a team of over 200 individuals- men and women- something can happen.
“Some of our soldiers are very young, the age range is between 20 and 25 and they are full of energy but our commanders will make sure they behave.
“We should make sure that they remain within the confines of what is acceptable but if they go beyond that, we will take measures to control them. We don’t want to tarnish the image of SADC and of our respective countries,” Dr Matondo said.