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War of words over Metsing’s security

  • LCD alleges govt plot to derail the return of the former deputy premier
  • govt insists that Metsing and the LCD have no right to dictate his security arrangements

’Marafaele Mohloboli

A WAR of words has erupted between the government and the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) over the security arrangements for the LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing who is expected in the country this morning after more than a year in self-imposed exile.

Mr Metsing issued a list of security demands including two round-the-clock close protection bodyguards, a further four back-up security details guards as well as arms and ammunition ahead his return.

However, the government is digging in its heels, saying the former Deputy Prime Minister has no right to dictate to it the kind of security he should be given and how long he is entitled to such security.

The government insists that it reserves the right to determine the size of the security.

If he returns this morning as expected, this would bring to an end a self-imposed exile in South Africa which commenced in August 2017 when Mr Metsing fled Lesotho citing an alleged plot to assassinate him. The government has nevertheless refuted his claims, insisting that he fled to escape prosecution for corruption.

Mr Metsing’s return will enable him to participate in the National Dialogue on the multi-sector reforms which gets underway in Maseru. He will take his place alongside other leaders of political parties in government and in the opposition at the dialogue which is expected to come up with an agenda for the constitutional, security sector, governance, judicial and media reforms that were recommended in 2016 by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The multi-sector reforms are seen as crucial to achieving lasting peace and stability without which socio-economic development cannot take place in Lesotho.

The opposition set Mr Metsing’s return as one of the preconditions for its participation in the process to implement multi-sector reforms that are aimed at achieving lasting peace and stability in the country.

Mr Metsing will return along with other exiled opposition leaders who include the deputy leader of the LCD, Tšeliso Mokhosi and the leader of the Socialist Revolution (SR) Teboho Mojapela.

Also expected to return are former police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa, former Director of the National Security Services (NSS), Tumo Lekhooa; Assistant Superintendent Bereng Ramahetlane who is an officer with the Lesotho Correctional Service and Mr Lebohang Setsomi who was head of procurement at the Lesotho Mounted Police Service.

The homecoming is the result of the agreement that was signed by the coalition of opposition parties and the government on 16 October 2018. The deal was mediated by the SADC facilitator Justice Dikgang Moseneke and his team.

Ahead of his expected return, Mr Metsing wrote to Justice Moseneke informing him that following “recent discussions and agreements”, he had “applied my mind to the matter of my personal security, a key element of my return conditions”.

“(In terms of) minimum security requirements, I would prefer to be protected by the LDF as per the current practice with regard to VIP protection as follows: two 24-hour close protection bodyguards, four 24-hour mobile protection crew for back-up to bodyguards, four detailed guards for residence, appropriate arms and ammunition, an appropriate vehicle for my transport and an appropriate vehicle for my guard,” Mr Metsing wrote.

He also submitted a list of names for his proposed guards and drivers who were only identified by their surnames.

“My wish is that the team be closely monitored by the LDF and the SADC security element in Lesotho. All my personal security arrangements should be in place when I enter Lesotho.

“My bodyguards and the mobile protection team should be in place and with me at the South Africa/Lesotho border post on the day that I return- the 25th of November 2018.

“All my security arrangements should be in place for the full duration of the national reforms process and until such time as Lesotho has adopted a revised constitution and a democratic election has taken place. Your assistance and support in this very personal and critical area is greatly appreciated.”

Two days after Mr Metsing wrote to Justice Moseneke, the latter appears to have written to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to inform him of Mr Metsing’s demands.

In a letter dated 16 November which appears to have been signed by Justice Moseneke, the latter urges Dr Thabane to accept Mr Metsing’s demands.

“I write to you, Your Excellency, to inform you of the personal security requirements of Mr Metsing…who intends to return to Lesotho to participate in the long-awaited…reform processes.

“As Your Excellency will recall, the issue of the return of the leader and others in exile has been a big challenge and also one of the preconditions put forward by the opposition political parties for their participation in the reforms processes.

“It has also been SADC’s call for a multi-stakeholder national dialogue that will bring together all stakeholders in Lesotho enabling an inclusive and transparent dialogue and reforms process led and owned by all Basotho.

“I therefore formally transmit the letter from Mr Metsing for your attention and consideration. I humbly request your good office to consider the request positively in keeping with your government’s stated commitment to provide support and cooperation of the government and your office in particular,” the latter states.

At the time of going to print the Sunday Express had not succeeded in obtaining comment from the SADC facilitation and commits to publishing the response should it be availed.

For his part, Mr Metsing has refused to be drawn into the contents of ‘his’ letter, saying, “I cannot discuss any communication between me and Ntate Moseneke with the media”.

However, the Prime Minister’s Press Attaché, Thabo Thakalekoala and the Government Spokesperson, Nthakeng Selinyane, have both insisted that the government will not be dictated to by Mr Metsing.

“Mr Metsing has absolutely no right to dictate terms as to what kind of security he wants nor the right to dictate the duration of such security.

“The government is the one which shall determine the kind of security and its duration after reviewing everything. It is not for him to say. This country has a government and he is just a leader of opposition,” Mr Thakalekoala recently told the Sunday Express.

His sentiments were echoed by Mr Selinyane who said that “the government shall also determine the kind and the size of the said security”.

“It has been officially communicated to Mr Metsing and SADC through all its relevant units that the latter shall be given the security he has been promised per the laws of Lesotho,” added Mr Selinyane without elaborating what kind of security would be afforded to the LCD leader.

For its part, the top brass of the LCD has accused the government of acting in bad faith with regards to the negotiations on Mr Metsing’s return. The party has gone as far as saying the government leaked the details of Mr Metsing’s security demands as part of ploy to frustrate him and thus get him to change his mind about coming home to participate in the reforms process.

LCD spokesperson Teboho Sekata said it “defied logic” that Mr Metsing’s demands had caused such a stir when it was his right to be afforded such protection.

“Mr Metsing will be coming home as the leader of LCD and former Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho and therefore he is entitled to security. I find it weird for people to be making such a fuss over his security. He is not asking for a miracle,” Mr Sekata said.

He further said that when the then opposition leader (and current Prime Minister) Thomas Thabane returned home from exile in 2017, he had listed his security requirements and even said he wanted to be guarded by the police and not army officers.

Mr Sekata said they were surprised and disappointed that the communication regarding Mr Metsing’s security demands had been leaked. He said the leak revealed the names of the proposed security details and this was done to expose them to stigma and ridicule.

“The intention of this government was to subject these officers to stigmatisation. It was very inconsiderate for that letter bearing their names to be leaked,” Mr Sekata said.

Another senior LCD official, Khotso Matla said, “Whether the government remains silent or not (regarding Mr Metsing’s security arrangements), Metsing like everyone else is entitled to security and he is coming, whether they like it or not.

“This matter (of Mr Metsing’s security) was communicated to the SADC facilitator in confidence and it’s quite disturbing that the communication ended up in the wrong hands. We expected that the government would respect the confidentiality of the issue and not for it to end being known by every Tom, Dick and Harry.

“The way this matter was handled by the government makes it very clear that it was intended to deter Mr Metsing from returning but their move was not enough (to stop his return). We can see that his home coming has frustrated them (the government) but he is definitely coming,” Mr Matla said.

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