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Soldier takes on army commander

Nat Molomo

MASERU — A junior soldier embroiled in a labour-related dispute with the army has alleged that the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) is trying to interfere with court decisions.
Private Theko Lerotholi made the startling allegations against Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli in an urgent application seeking a court order to block the army from interfering with his sick-leave request.
In the application before Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase, Lerotholi says he wants the court to bar the army from rejecting his sick-leave applications.
He also wants the army to be stopped from arresting and detaining him for failing to report for duty after his sick-leave application was rejected on September 5.
The army commander, Lerotholi argues, must also be barred from sending officers to his house.
But it is the allegations Lerotholi makes in his affidavit against the commander that are startling.
Lerotholi alleges that on August 9 at a parade of 600 soldiers at Ratjomose Barracks, Lieutenant General Kamoli said he was not going to tolerate soldiers who use the courts to fight the army.
He said the commander threatened to arrest lawyers who help soldiers fight the army in court because “there are soldiers who want to disrupt the command and control of the defence force through sick leave and court orders”.
“Even those lawyers who assist such personnel (soldiers), some of them I have been studying with them, I will send Military Police to arrest them. The time has passed of being threatened by lawyers,” the commander said according to Lerotholi.
Lerotholi claims that Lieutenant General Kamoli went as far as saying he had already met “the ones at the helm of the justice system” over the use of court orders to fight the army.
Lerotholi claims the commander said: “There is no one who can stop me from meeting the ones at the helm of the justice system and I have already done that so as to root out these unscrupulous soldiers who threaten command and control of the army with court orders.”
“When you had been involved in criminal activities and you were handled tightly by soldiers and police, you should not come around and threaten my NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and officers with sick leaves”.
According to Lerotholi the commander warned the soldiers that “this army is commanded and controlled by Standing Orders not court orders”.
He further allegedly ordered the NCOs and officers that “when a soldier comes with a sick leave note you must scrutinise it, make a follow-up and if you are not satisfied about it do not accept it”.
“The rebels, criminals and untrustworthy ones do not have space here in the defence force; these people who spoil the administration of the defence force with sick leaves and court orders do not have space in this army,” the commander reportedly said.
Lerotholi said he considered the commander’s statements as “shocking, terrorising and seeking to interfere with the independence of the judiciary in this democratic dispensation”.
In April last year Lerotholi was granted M150 000 in damages after he successfully sued the army and the police for torture and unlawful detention.
He had been arrested for allegedly stealing rifles from the army in December 2004.
A year before his torture he had been diagnosed with a muscular infirmity which worsens in cold environment.
He says since his torture his health deteriorated and he has had to apply for sick leave on numerous occasions.
In September his request for a sick leave was rejected despite that he had a letter from a doctor.
He alleges that the army then tried to arrest him for not reporting for duty.
He then filed an urgent application in the High Court on Friday.
He claims that following Lieutenant General Kamoli’s statements he came to the conclusion that the commander was “actually breathing terror on me and other personnel who might be in more similar situation”.
Justice Mahase granted Lerotholi an interim order and the case will be argued on September 21.

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