THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force is investigating the circumstances surrounding the incidents in which two of its soldiers were badly injured in two separate accidents.
In one of the incidents, a 22-year-old Angolan soldier, who is part of the Standby Force which was deployed to Lesotho in December 2017 as part of efforts to ensure peace and stability in the country, was hit by a vehicle in Ha Foso in Maseru a fortnight ago. He was in the company of a 36-year-old local woman who died on the scene.
Another Angolan soldier was also injured in another incident after being hit by a car in Maseru. Both two soldiers were hospitalised at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital with broken bones.
Some well-placed sources have told the Sunday Express that the duo might be withdrawn from the mission as their excursions into the city away from their areas of deployment were in contravention of the SADC Code of Conduct for the Standby Force, also known as the SADC Preventative Mission to Lesotho (SAMPIL).
The SADC Code of Conduct, which this paper has a copy in its possession, states that the SAMPIL will not “tolerate any unbecoming behaviours or condone any indiscipline, and in particular, sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), alcohol and drug abuse”.
The code of conduct has been signed by all the 248 members of the SADC standby forces as SADC moves to ensure that its members uphold the highest standards of discipline.
Five Angolan soldiers were sent home in January this year after falling foul of the disciplinary requirements of SAPMIL.
And while there have been claims that the two soldiers would also be sent home as soon as they were discharged from hospital, the chairperson of the SADC Oversight Committee, Matias Bertino Matondo, however, said a final decision regarding the status of the two soldiers in Lesotho would only be made after investigations to establish what actually transpired on the day they were injured.
“The situation of the two hospitalised soldiers is slightly different (from those that were sent home) and a SAMPIL board of inquiry has been established to conduct an investigation of the circumstances surrounding their incidents,” Dr Matondo said, adding, “A final decision will be taken following the outcome of the investigation”.
Dr Matondo said the members of the SAPMIL had a signed code of conduct which was meant to uphold the highest standards of discipline.
“There are measures taken resulting from any deviation. As a Mission we have our internal disciplinary processes to address any form of misconduct which include warning, reprimanding and withdrawing (any member of the SAPMIL).
“I wish, therefore, to confirm that five Angolan soldiers were withdrawn from the Mission in January on disciplinary grounds following the necessary processes mentioned above. The soldiers have been replaced accordingly,” Dr Matondo said.
Sources close to the developments told our sister Lesotho Times publication that the five soldiers were sent home for various acts of indiscipline which included returning late to their areas of deployment after late night excursions where some of them were involved in partying and alcohol consumption.
However, Dr Matondo said it was difficult to say whether or not the five soldiers were involved in romantic relationships with local women.
He said that it was also important for people to understand that soldiers were not prisoners and that they were permitted to leave their bases during their spare time to do shopping and other personal errands.
While conceding that “anything could happen” when the soldiers left their bases, he said “we have been educating and exhorting them to strictly adhere to the noble and professional behavioural patterns that are expected of them”.
Asked if these developments had in any way compromised the credibility of SAMPIL, Dr Matondo said SAMPIL’s overall track record speaks for itself and it could not be not judged on the basis of the fringe elements whose negative conduct made headlines.
“There will always be individuals who stray from the norms. However, this is not unique to military forces alone who are a product of our societies and realities. This (the behaviour of the five soldiers) should not overlook the majority of SAPMIL men and women who proudly execute their duties,” he said.
He said SAPMIL was well on course to executing its mandate to create a conducive environment for Basotho people to engage in an inclusive dialogue and the implementation of the multi-sector reforms that were crucial to achieving lasting peace and stability.
“In that regard, we recently conducted a successful capacity building programme with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) through forensic training and other police skills. It is a fact that SAPMIL presence in the country benefits all Basotho including those who never publicly miss an opportunity to make disparaging comments against its efforts,” Dr Matondo said.