Negotiations between the government and opposition over the return of exiled opposition leaders collapsed on Thursday after the two parties failed to agree on the issue of army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli.
When representatives of the two sides met at Parliament Building to continue with the discussions which began last month in Modderpoort, South Africa, the opposition insisted the dialogue could only go ahead if the government agreed to talk about Lt-Gen Kamoli’s dismissal as the exiled leaders would only agree to return if he was removed.
After government’s representatives— Home Affairs Minister Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane and Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane—indicated they could not talk about the issue until the leaders are back home, the opposition decided to end the engagement and vowed never to meet on the issue again.
The main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) was represented by its deputy leader Tlali Khasu, secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele and chairperson Motlohi Maliehe, while the Basotho National Party (BNP) had deputy leader Joang Molapo, and spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe in the meeting. The Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) was represented by deputy leader Dr Motloheloa Phooko and secretary general ‘Mamolula Ntabe in the talks which had raised Basotho’s hopes of a peaceful resolution to the dispute.
According to Chief Molapo, the safe return of their leaders—Thomas Thabane, Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo of the ABC, BNP and RCL respectively—from South Africa where they sought refuge in May last year remained of utmost importance in the alliance.
The three leaders fled the country after claiming some Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members led by Lt-Gen Kamoli were plotting to assassinate them, which the army has since denied.
However, Chief Molapo yesterday told the Sunday Express that there would be no more negotiations with the government over the leaders’ return because of the deadlock over Lt-Gen Kamoli.
“The talks collapsed when the government maintained that our leaders should return home first before we can talk about the issue of Kamoli.
“We disagreed on that issue and left the meeting on that account. When we went for the Easter break, the government had promised we would get a response on Kamoli’s issue, but they are now saying they will only talk about it when all the exiled opposition members, soldiers and our leaders, are back home.
“It is now time for us to go on a campaign of informing the public about how deceitful these people are, and what has been happening in these talks,” said Chief Molapo.
The opposition would now fight its battle in the National Assembly, the BNP deputy leader said.
“We will be going to parliament and bringing the fight into the House. We had hoped to resolve these security issues amicably through negotiations but we have failed,” he said.
Chief Molapo further said the opposition had made it clear to the government representatives that they should not expect them to attend any further meetings on the leaders’ return.
“We cannot agree to have our leaders back in Lesotho when the people they ran away from are still in office.
“We had agreed that the leaders could be protected by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service on their return but that was on condition that Kamoli and his soldiers accused of various crimes are dealt with in line with the SADC Commission of Inquiry’s report, and recommendations,” said Chief Molapo.
According to the Commission’s recommendations, Lt-Gen Kamoli should be dismissed “in the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation, and that all LDF members implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason must be suspended while investigations into their cases proceed in line with international best practice”.
Chief Molapo said until this happens, the leaders would not return to Lesotho. The Commission was established by SADC after former army commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao was fatally shot by his colleagues on 25 June last year outside his Mokema farm. The LDF says he was resisting arrest for suspected mutiny when he was gunned down.
Chief Molapo also said the opposition would be telling the electorate that the ruling coalition allegedly wanted local government elections to be postponed for unclear reasons.
“The seven parties in the coalition government (Democratic Congress, Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Popular Front for Democracy, Lesotho People’s Congress, Basotho Congress Party, Marematlou Freedom Party and National Independent Party) know they are no longer popular to the general public and want to postpone the elections because they fear losing them badly. We are going to be exposing this to the people,” he said.
For his part, Mr Khasu said the opposition would leave the negotiations to the exiled leaders themselves because the government had refused to discuss Lt-Gen Kamoli with them.
“The government has not removed Kamoli and his soldiers have not been dealt with as recommended by the SADC Commission of Inquiry. So we cannot continue under such state of affairs,” Mr Khasu said.
“Our mandate, from our leader as the ABC, was that the first thing is for Kamoli to be relieved of his duties as LDF commander.
“Now that this has failed, we will raise the issue to our bosses to handle them. However, that is only subject to the Prime Minister (Pakalitha Mosisili) agreeing to meet with our leader on the issue as they have met in the past.”
However, Advocate Rakuoane yesterday told the Sunday Express that the government was optimistic the talks would resume.
The Home Affairs Minister said the government had a responsibility to ensure there is peace and stability in the country and would pursue the talks with the opposition.
“The government is optimistic on the opposition leaders’ return. I’d not say the talks have collapsed the way the opposition is saying but that they are still open as the prime minister and opposition leaders can talk anytime they want.
“There was a time they met in the middle of talks that were ongoing between us and the opposition’s representatives, so there is no way the negotiations can be said to be over. Whenever there is a new development, we will contact them as the government, and make each other offers if necessary,” said Advocate Rakuoane.