Defence minister  pledges to bring  home exiled soldiers

Defence minister pledges to bring home exiled soldiers

MASERU – As long as the Defence Minister Sentje Lebona says he is working on the modalities for the safe return of soldiers who fled the country two years ago within the next two months.
Lebona told thepost yesterday that he is exploring legal aspects to ascertain if they could face any criminal charges in the martial court.
“I cannot tell if they are still facing any charges or they will be prosecuted when they come back,” Lebona said.
“We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Lebona however said preparations are being made to ensure that legal and other processes to bring them back will be complete within two months.
The soldiers fled the country to South Africa between April and June 2015 at a time when the then newly reinstated army boss Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli began arresting for suspected involvement in a mutiny plot.

Soldiers who were assumed to be rallying behind Maaparankoe Mahao, the man who had been elevated to the rank of Lieutenant General and replaced Kamoli as the army commander, were rounded up and locked at the Maseru Central Prison.
Mahao was later killed in what the army said was an operation to arrest him.
The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) spokesman Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi could not be brought to comment the issue of exiled soldiers yesterday.
“Did soldiers go into exile?” he asked.

“I know nothing about soldiers in exile. Maybe I will find out, if possible, if there is such a thing,” he said.
Bringing back the soldiers from exile is part of the recommendations that were passed by a SADC commission investigating the death of Mahao.
The commission, headed by a Botswana judge, Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi, found that the mutiny plot charges had been cooked up by the army authorities so that soldiers who supported Mahao could be charged.

It also found that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had acted lawfully when he fired Kamoli and replaced him with Mahao.
Lawyers for the arrested soldiers also argued that there was no mutiny because the soldiers were working together with the legally appointed commander.
The commission agreed with this hence the recommendation for the dropping of mutiny charges and bringing back of the exiles.

King Letsie III last week told parliament that his government is going to fully implement the SADC Commission recommendations, including the return of the exiles.
Lebona said the government “is going to do exactly what His Majesty has said”.

“We are going to work towards implementing those SADC recommendations as King Letsie is expecting,” he said.
“I think we only need two months to complete the implementation of SADC recommendations,” he added.

Nkheli Liphoto

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