State witness attempts to exonerate Kamoli
A STATE witness has gone out his way to exonerate former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, and others who stand accused murdering army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao.
In his quest to exonerate Lieutenant General Kamoli and his co-accused, Retired Colonel Phaila, went as far as claiming that the current Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) command is composed of people who mutinied against Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command.
This despite that a 2016 SADC Commission of Inquiry established that there was no such mutiny and instead recommended the prosecution of all those suspected of murdering Lt-Gen Mahao in Mokema, Maseru on 25 June 2015.
Lt-Gen Kamoli and nine others have been charged with Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder as per the SADC recommendations.
His co-accused are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Capt Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Former Director of Military Intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, is also accused in absentia as he fled the country in 2017.
Retired Colonel Phaila is one of several people who have been lined up by the state as witnesses in the murder trial.
But if his testimony so far is anything to go by, then it will not help the state case.
Testifying before the presiding High Court Judge, Charles Hungwe, on Wednesday, Retired Colonel Phaila claimed there had indeed been a mutiny against Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command. He alleged that the slain Lt-Gen Mahao was among the “mutineers” and he would have been the last soldier to be arrested had it not been for his death.
He claimed that all the current LDF command, save for commander, Mojalefa Letsoela, and Major General Ramanka Mokaloba were part of the “mutiny”.
He further alleged that the “mutinous” soldiers had plotted together with then Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana and politicians like former Basotho National Party (BNP) leader and current minister, Thesele Maseribane.
He even claimed that Lt-Gen Mahao’s death was a boon to Chief Maseribane and Tšooana as it enabled them to cover up their own involvement in what he said was the 2015 mutiny plot.
He said at the time the LDF had resolved to arrest all “mutiny” suspects and that it would have arrested Lt-Gen Mahao, Chief Maseribane and Mr Tšooana. He said further arrests were only stopped when Lt-Gen Mahao died.
Only current LDF commander, Mojalefa Letsoela, and Major General Ramanka Mokaloba are not “mutineers”, Retired Colonel Phaila said.
In his testimony on Wednesday, he expressed his hatred for politicians for allegedly meddling in army affairs, causing chaos and instability.
Had it not been for politicians, Lt-Gen Mahao would not have died, he said. He however, did not explain how the politicians had caused Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder.
“Brigadier Mahao was the last soldier to be arrested before we could arrest Maseribane and Tšooana,” Retired Colonel Phaila said.
He also claimed that Lt-Gen Mahao had been shot while resisting arrest- a claim which was dismissed by the 2016 SADC Commission of Inquiry.
He said even Lt-Gen Kamoli was not happy with the death of Lt-Gen Mahao and considered it a “misfortune”.
“We were not happy about the death of Brigadier Mahao. When Lt-Gen Kamoli received the report of his death, he clapped once and looked away saying, ‘what a misfortune’.”
Retired Colonel Phaila blamed the alleged mutiny on politicians meddling in the army to place their allies in high-ranking posts. He alleged that Lt-Gen Mahao was part of the “mutiny” because it would have placed him at the helm of the LDF after ousting Lt-Gen Kamoli.
“I am still not happy with politicians. Politicians hide behind people’s deaths and divert the attention from themselves. Brigadier Mahao’s death was a jackpot to cover up their involvement in the mutiny plot. I hate politicians.
“This death of Maaparankoe did not sit well with us in the army because it stopped our operation prematurely. When we arrested (one of the alleged mutineers, one Lance Corporal) Motene, we learnt that he had met with Maseribane and had set an appointment to meet again at their secret meeting place in Ha Leqele. We had wanted to arrest Thesele (Maseribane) who fled alleging that soldiers were after him whereas in actual truth is that he fled because his accomplice had been arrested,” Rtd Col Phaila said.
“The army is tormented by politicians. You may find a politician saying a certain soldier should be promoted. On what grounds would he be saying that when he does not know about army conduct? Political influence became eminent in 1994 although it was controllable because it was at lower ranks. In 2012, the politicians realised that the methodology of using lower ranks was not working so they shifted their focus to the LDF command. We would not be here if it was not of politicians.
“Even in the current LDF command, it is only (Lt-Gen Mojalefa) Letsoela and (Major General Ramanka) Mokaloba who are not mutineers. The deputy (commander) (Major Gen Matela Matobakele) is also a mutineer.
“There was overwhelming evidence of mutiny as even Colonel Nkeli told the truth that they held secret meetings during lunch in Brigadier Mareka’s office in Ha Ratjomose at lunch while simultaneously holding another meeting in Col Kolisang’s office in Makoanyane.
“Furthermore, one Major Lesia was also arrested and it was discovered on his mobile phone that he had a WhatsApp conversation with Brigadier Mahao. He was made to read that to the senior officers in a hall and part of it said that majority of LDF command were naive.”
Retired Colonel Phaila joined the army in 1982, reaching the retirement age of 55 in 2013. He continued to serve in the army on contract until in September 2017 when his contract, which was to end in December 2019, was terminated by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government.
He said he was the one who interviewed Lt-Gen Mahao when he joined the army in 1996. He said Lt-Gen Mahao had been a good soldier until he became a Brigadier.
“In the beginning Mahao was performing very well. From recruitment, he jumped to the rank of Lieutenant. After two years he became Major, then Lieutenant Colonel after a year, Colonel after two years and then Brigadier in 2007.
“He became big-headed after assuming the Brigadier rank as at one point he disobeyed the command of Lt-Gen (Thuso) Motanyane, saying the commander had not written to him. But I later learnt that he had been warned about his unruly behaviour.”
According to Retired Colonel Phaila, Lt-Gen Mahao was part of the 2015 “mutiny” because he wanted to be reinstated as LDF commander. He had been appointed LDF chief in place of Lt-Gen Kamoli who had been fired by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane for insubordination on 29 August 2014.
The decision did not go down well with Lt-Gen Kamoli who then attempted to overthrow Mr Thabane’s government the next day. Apart from the Mahao murder trial, Lt-Gen Kamoli and others are also facing treason charges in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup.
Lt-Gen Kamoli was eventually restored to the LDF command by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili who succeeded Mr Thabane in 2015. He was however, forced to step down by international pressure in December 2016. He was succeeded by Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo, who was gunned down by Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi on 5 September 2017.
In his testimony, Retired Colonel Phaila, who was LDF Director of Logistics and Catering at the time, said other “mutineers” would also be promoted after rebelling against the LDF command and killing Lt-Gen Kamoli and other high-ranking LDF officials such as Major Ntlele Ntoi, Lieutenant Colonel Tumo Lekhooa and himself.
He said he had received information from then acting LDF commander, the late Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, that there was a mutiny being planned by some soldiers and civilians. He told the court that Lt-Gen Motšomotšo ordered that there should be an operation to stop the mutiny.
He said Lt-Gen Kamoli did not order the arrest operation as he was on special leave at the time. He said Lt-Gen Motšomotšo stood in for Lt-Gen Kamoli and the latter only returned to work on 27 May 2015.
Even then, Lt-Gen Kamoli did not participate in the arrest of the alleged mutineers, he said.
“Two days before Ascension Day in 2015 (12 May 2015), while I was doing my usual reports to then Deputy Commander of LDF, Major General Motšomotšo, he told me while in his office that there was a mutiny plot,” Rtd Col Phaila said.
“He then called Lt-Col Lekhooa, Capt Hashatsi and Acting Major Sechele to his office. Lt-Col Lekhooa was Director Military Intelligence, Acting Major Sechele was deputy Director Legal and Capt Hashatsi was manning the Special Forces. Major Gen Motšomotšo ordered Lt-Col Lekhooa to give an intelligence report on soldiers and civilians who wanted to rebel against the LDF command.
“Lt-Col Lekhooa mentioned Brigadier Mareka, Brigadier Motoa, Col Stemmere, Col Kolisang, Lance Corporal Jobo, Lance Corporal Motene and others. He also mentioned Thesele Maseribane, Khothatso Tšooana and retired soldier Hlajoane. Lt-Col Lekhooa also said that Brigadier Mahao was also part of the mutiny because he wanted to be reinstated as the commander of the LDF.
“Major Gen Motšomotšo ordered us to stop mutiny and arrest those involved so that they could be brought before courts of law, in this case the Court Martial.
“Lt-Gen Kamoli was on special leave at the time and therefore was never part of the operation. Major Gen Motšomotšo was left in charge of the army,” Retired Colonel Phaila said.