THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) has pledged to come up with a “strong code of conduct” that will govern the conduct of the SADC standby force to avoid a repeat of past incidents where some SADC troops were accused on improper associations with locals, particularly women during their tour of duty in 1998.
The 258 strong standby force comprising of 207 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 12 civilian experts is being deployed to Lesotho on 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”.
It was expected in the country yesterday.
The deployment was agreed on by SADC leaders in the aftermath of the 5 September 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
A SADC report titled “Draft integrated mission plan for the deployment of the contingent mission to the Kingdom of Lesotho,” seen by this publication, states that one of the main objectives of the SADC deployment is to “assist in isolating renegade elements within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)”.
The standby force will also support Lesotho in retraining its army personnel, especially in the area of civil-military relations while working towards security sector and other institutional reforms.
Furthermore, the SADC force will “monitor the investigation of the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, prioritise and expeditiously assist in the operationalisation of national unity and reconciliation dialogue with a clear approach, to be facilitated by SADC, whereby the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission may be considered”.
There have been some concerns in the country that there could be a repeat of the 1998 episode where 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”.
The instability which was caused by mutinous members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who seized arms and ammunition and expelled or imprisoned their commanding officers.
The soldiers took advantage of the dissatisfaction of some opposition political parties who refused to accept the results of the May 1998 parliamentary elections which gave then Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy Party, an overwhelming majority of 79 out of 80 seats.
Government vehicles were hijacked, the broadcasting station was closed, and the Prime Minister and other ministers were virtually held hostage.
The Lesotho police had lost control of the situation and the South African Defence Force (SANDF) feared that a military coup was being planned.
The SADC forces were deployed in key areas and communities of interest for eight months, and many of them were accused of giving money, foodstuffs like beef and peanuts in exchange for sex.
There were even claims that the sexual practices contributed to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
This was in addition to reports of resultant pregnancies which created emotional and financial burdens among single mothers and their families who were left to look after the children born out of wedlock.
With the looming deployment of the latest standby force, SADC Oversight Committee Chairperson, Matias Bertino Matondo recently told the media that they had drawn up a code of conduct after receiving complaints that the past SADC troops’ attitudes did not conform to local values and norms.
“Our troops are also deploying with a concrete mandate and with a very strong code of conduct because we don’t want things that happened in the past to happen again,” Dr Matondo said, adding they were optimistic that “this time around things would be different”.
He said the concerns of past misdeeds by SADC forces had been raised by opposition parties and civil society organisations.
“That is why we are saying that this time around we are making sure that our troops behave the way they are supposed to behave, to uphold the highest standard of morality that is the hallmark of SADC,” Dr Matondo said.
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