. . . as 1 200-strong contingent begins arriving this week
OVERHAULING the Lesotho Defence Force’s (LDF) Military Intelligence (MI) wing will rank high among the priorities of the 1 200-strong Southern African Development Community (SADC) standby force expected in the country starting on Wednesday.
Defence and National Security Ministry Principal Secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, has told the Sunday Express that the military, security, intelligence and civilian experts headed for Lesotho would “remodel” the MI since it was integral to the operations of the military.
The mooted overhaul is also a consequence of the government’s concerns about the MI’s failure to anticipate the 5 September 2017 assassination of LDF commander, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by his subordinates.
According to the government account of the incident, Brig Sechele had been accompanied to Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s Ratjomose Barracks office by Colonel Tefo Hashatsi and a third officer on the fateful day.
Brig Sechele and Col Hashatsi had reportedly accused Lt-Gen Motšomotšo of failing to stop the prosecution of LDF members implicated in various crimes before shooting the LDF chief dead.
Brig Sechele and Col Hashatsi were eventually killed in a hail of bullets from Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards as they left the office complex.
A third suspect, Captain Boiketsiso Fonane, is in military detention.
Brig Sechele and Col Hashatsi had also been implicated in the 25 June 2015 killing of former LDF commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao by a SADC Commission of Inquiry.
In the aftermath of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s assassination, SADC dispatched a Ministerial Double Troika fact-finding mission to assess the security situation in Lesotho.
The mission’s findings were presented to a Double Troika Summit held on 15 September 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa.
The mission reported that they had been told by the Lesotho government that Lt-Gen Motšomotšo had no support from the MI – which could have anticipated the assassination plot.
The MI’s director-general is Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, who was fired as NSS director-general by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in July this year and redeployed to his former role in the army. Col Lekhooa has since challenged his redeployment from the NSS in a case still before the courts of law.
A SADC intelligence committee, which convened ahead of the summit, also identified lingering threats to Lesotho’s security which include army deserters implicated in crimes, lack of trust between security structures as well as lack of control and accountability in the use of arms and ammunition.
The Double Troika Summit acquiesced to Lesotho’s request for a standby force comprising of 1 099 troops, 30 civilians, 34 police officers, one pathologist, four scuba divers and a police mobile unit.
The reported US$$6.7 million (about M95.3 million) cost of deploying the standby force will be incurred by the regional body. Earlier this month, the government of Namibia approved the deployment of 250 soldiers to Lesotho as part of the 1 200-strong standby force.
Angolan Foreign Affairs Minister, Manuel Augusto, visited South Africa this past week to brief the bloc’s chairperson and South African President Jacob Zuma of the situation on the ground ahead of the deployment.
Mr Augusto’s visit to Pretoria came in the wake of a meeting he held last week with Lesotho’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi in Luanda, Angola.
Mr Makgothi had gone to Angola to remonstrate with Mr Augusto over the region’s defence chiefs recommendations to dispatch a third technical mission to Lesotho. Maseru refused to allow the third mission to come to the country — whose visit had been scheduled for 18 October.
Rtd Col Mothae told this publication on Friday the MI needed to be overhauled because of its importance in the LDF’s operations. He also cited the fact that most of the intelligence agency’s members were among the 45 facing mutiny charges.
The 45 were slapped with mutiny charges in 2015 by the LDF, amid allegations of working in cahoots with Lt-Gen Mahao. The SADC Commission of Inquiry concluded that the LDF’s case against the alleged mutineers was “highly suspect” and recommended that they be granted amnesty by the government.
Their mutiny court-martial has since been postponed to next year to allow the government to legally drop the charges.
The mutiny accused have also been granted an indefinite leave of absence to allow them time to decide whether or not they want to continue as members of the security agency.
“If you are aware, the majority of soldiers facing mutiny charges were MI personnel and MI is the backbone of a defence force. We cannot operate without it,” said Rtd Col Mothae.
“So we have to have people with expertise to help these guys remodel the MI and this is one critical body which they will be working on during their deployment in Lesotho.”
He said the regional force was also going to train senior army officers to ensure they have the capacity to address the needs of departments under their purview.
“For us to do this well, we have to find the right people and to conduct tailored training to ensure the LDF members do their jobs effectively.”
While the PS was uncertain on whether the standby force would be deployed as a unit or in batches this Wednesday, he said Lesotho and SADC were expected to sign a Status of the Force Agreement (SOFA) – a guiding tool on the force’s rules of engagement.
“SOFA outlines the rules of engagement of the battalion, detailing areas that should be attended to during its deployment,” Rtd Col Mothae said.
“Lesotho had requested that the battalion assist with training and capacitating army departments that shifted from their mandates.”
He said SOFA covered the broad terms of engagement guiding the deployment in line with local, regional and international laws.
“Each and every department will develop its terms of reference, especially the areas we have requested assistance. Most of the work will take place when the force is already in the country in consultation with the LDF, government of Lesotho and others,” he said.
He said the draft SOFA document had already been sent to the SADC Secretariat in Botswana, adding that the relevant ministries – Defence and Foreign Affairs – had agreed on the contents of the document.
“I don’t know if the document has been signed already or not because Foreign Affairs and the SADC Secretariat are the ones who are supposed to sign it,” Col Mothae said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi told the Sunday Express’s sister paper, Lesotho Times, last week that the document had already been signed by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, although SADC Executive Secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, was yet to append her signature.
The military experts are also expected to assist in the implementation of security sector reforms, he said, stressing that the reforms were not exclusive to the army.
Lesotho has embarked on multi-sectoral reforms with the objective of attaining lasting peace and stability at the instigation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Among the areas earmarked for reform are the constitution and the security sector, with a view to nip in the bud the root causes of Lesotho’s instability.
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