Africa

SADC dithers again in mission to send peacekeeping force into tense Lesotho

The deployment of a regional peacekeeping force to Lesotho has been further delayed, even as the need for it seems to be growing after the arrest and detention on a murder charge of former military commander Tlali Kamoli. Kamoli, who is widely suspected to be behind much of the instability in the country, appeared in the Maseru magistrates’ court this week where he was charged with the murder of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko. By PETER FABRICIUS.

Mokheseng Ramahloko was shot dead on the night of 30 August 2014 when Tlali Kamoli, who was then Lesotho’s military commander, allegedly launched a coup attempt against Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s government.

Kamoli was also charged on eight counts of attempted murder related to the simultaneous bombings on January 27, 2014 of the homes of Thabane’s wife Maesiah Thabane and of then police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana.

Lesotho sources said they were surprised that Kamoli was not also charged with any crimes related to the killing of former military commander Maaparankoe Mahao in June 2015. Kamoli is widely believed to have sent the soldiers who shot and killed Mahao. They claimed, however, that they killed him while he was resisting arrest, though Mahao’s family insisted he had been assassinated.

Kamoli, who had handed himself over to police last week, was held in custody over the weekend and returned to custody after being charged on Monday.

Last week, on October 12, Lesotho foreign minister Lesego Makgothi told Daily Maverick he was “shocked” that Kamoli had been detained before a planned peacekeeping force to be assembled by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had been deployed in Lesotho.

He said the purpose of the force was to provide protection to Thabane’s government as it moved to arrest military officers who are suspected of complicity in several political crimes over the last few years. Makgothi was speaking en route to Gaborone, Botswana, where he was to demand an explanation from SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Tax on why the deployment of the SADC force was taking so long.

He wanted to know why SADC military chiefs meeting in Luanda the previous week had decided to send a third technical assessment mission to Lesotho on 18 October to resolve some logistical issues around the deployment of the force, including where exactly it should be deployed.

Makgothi accused the military chiefs of overruling the SADC heads of state who had decided on the deployment of the force by 1 November, at a summit in Pretoria on 15 September. He expressed concern that rebellious soldiers might resist the arrest of officers like Kamoli, if the SADC force was not present in Lesotho.

After meeting Tax, Makgothi said “we are on the right direction towards resolving” the issue. However this resolution seems to have delayed rather than accelerated the deployment of the force.

An SADC secretariat source said on Thursday that the visit of the technical assessment mission to Lesotho had been postponed from the 18th, as the Lesotho government wanted more time to prepare to receive it. 

He agreed that this did not seem to make sense, especially in the light of the arrest of Kamoli, if the Lesotho government really did fear a backlash from sympathetic military officers to the move against Kamoli.

They seem to have managed without the SADC force,” this official said, noting that there seemed to have been no negative reaction from the army so far to Kamoli’s arrest. “Maybe they don’t need the force after all.”

The SADC “contingent force”, as it is to be called, is expected to comprise about 1,000 to 1,200 personnel, mainly troops, but also some police, intelligence and civilian officials. However, the exact strength of the force would only be decided after the technical assessment mission had reported back from Lesotho, the SADC official said.

Some media reported this week that Namibia had deployed 250 troops to Lesotho as part of this force. But the SADC official denied this, saying that those troops had merely been placed on standby for possible deployment.

He said so far only a small advance party of the SADC force had been sent into Lesotho.

The official said the aim was still to deploy the force by 1 November, but was unable to say if that would still happen. DM

Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at King Moshoshoe Airport in Maseru. 18 October 2017 (GCIS)

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