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SADC mission aborted

…as delegation head rushes to Malawi election crisis

Boitumelo Koloi

A SOUTHERN African Development Community (SADC) mission seeking to mediate in the on-going turf war between the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) had to be aborted midstream due to the disputed presidential election in Malawi.

The SADC Ministerial Troika, led by the Chair of the Ministerial Committee of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, arrived in the country on Wednesday on a three-day visit “to conduct consultation with various stakeholders on issues including politics and governance”.

The mission was supposed to end yesterday with a full media briefing on what had transpired during the series of meetings the delegates held with various stakeholders.
But a press conference that had been called for 11am at a local hotel was cancelled at the last minute due to the absence of Ms Nandi-Ndaitwah, who had left early in the morning for a more urgent assignment in Malawi, where President Joyce Banda was refusing to accept the outcome of the poll citing “irregularities”.

The Malawi Electoral Commission had released preliminary results of the poll, showing opposition Democratic Progressive Party candidate Peter Mutharika leading with 42 percent, followed by Banda with 23 percent.
But before the rest of the votes could be counted, Banda annulled the election, sparking fears this could lead to unrest in the impoverished nation, hence Ms Nandi-Ndaitwah’s hasty departure for Lilongwe.
A Foreign Affairs Ministry official confirmed yesterday’s press conference had been called off due to the Malawi poll, adding the SADC mission in Lesotho would continue this week.
“The mission has been suspended and is expected to be continued next week. The head of delegation (who is also Namibia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs), has been summoned to the Malawi presidential poll, probably to quell election-related instability in that country.
“She left the country this morning,” said the official, who would not field any questions from reporters.

However, according to sources privy to the SADC mission, the delegation had met various interested parties in an effort to find a lasting solution to the standoff between the LDF and LMPS.
Tension between the two security agencies has been mounting since last month when the LDF ignored a request by the LMPS to release eight soldiers needed to help with investigations into the simultaneous bombings of three Maseru homes on 27 January this year.

The attacks were on the homes of Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana in Tšieng Ha-Abia, and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s partner, Liabiloe Ramoholi, and her neighbour ‘Mamoletsane Moletsane in Moshoeshoe II.

As part of investigations into the bombings, Commissioner Tšooana on 14 April wrote to LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli requesting the release of the eight soldiers the police needed for questioning.
However, the LDF has steadfastly refused to release the said LDF members, which has left the police frustrated but powerless to do anything about it, hence the intervention of the SADC Ministerial Troika.

Lack of decisive action by Dr Thabane, who is also the Minister of Defence, Police and National Security, to end the standoff is also said to have worried some stakeholders who took the issue to the regional bloc, hence Ms Nandi-Ndaitwah’s mission.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Express was reliably informed the SADC delegates met the leadership of the two security agencies late Friday afternoon, as well as members of the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs).

According to the sources, the NGOs maintained during the meeting the issue required “proper dialogue” to end the tension between the two agencies and that only internal mediation could resolve the dispute, not outside intervention.
“The mission was told that the tension between the army and police is real, and if not handled properly, has the potential to escalate into a deadly crisis.
“We, as the local civil society, maintained that the dispute needed proper management, and by that we meant local remedy. In other words, there is no way that SADC will resolve the impasse without involving critical local stakeholders such as church-leaders and civic groups.

“As NGOs, we also feel there is need for everyone involved in the issue to tone-down in their pronouncements, especially on attitudes towards the military who may be feeling judged for failing to cooperate with the police, forcing them to maintain a hard-line stance.
“The mission was also told the two agencies deserve to be given a platform to air their views on the stalemate.”
When the SADC delegates arrived in the country on Wednesday, government spokesperson Selibe Mochoboroane would not say much on the visit.
However, Mr Mochoboroane, who is also the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, said the visit could have been the result of a confidential letter written by opposition parties, seeking regional intervention on issues yet to be made public.
Yesterday, the minister could not be reached for an update on the visit.

Contacted for comment yesterday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Mohlabi Tsekoa said he was not yet in a position to say anything on the issue.
“I’ve just come into the country from an official trip to Pretoria with His Majesty, so I am not in a position to comment right now,” he said.


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