Army detains 28 ‘gangsters’

Army detains 28 ‘gangsters’

MASERU – THE army is detaining 28 people who are alleged to be members of gangs allegedly terrorising villagers in Koalabata and surrounding areas.
The alleged gangsters, some of them as young as 16, were rounded up in the military’s Operation Namola (Intervene) last week.

But instead of handing them to the police, as per procedure, the army has been keeping them at Makoanyane Military Barracks.
The alleged gangsters, who include two women, have not been charged and the army claims to be rehabilitating them.
The police don’t appear to be involved in their detention.

The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) spokesman, Captain Sakeng Lekola, told thepost this week that they “will be in our hands until further notice as we counsel them and make them human again”.
“This Operation Namola (Intervene) was done by our commander in trying to solve the gang problems there,” Captain Lekola said.
Captain Lekola did not explain what law the army is using to detain the alleged gangsters. Nor did he reveal the methods used to “make them human again”.

Legal experts however say the detentions could be a violation of human rights because the army has no authority to detain criminal suspects.
They say while the army can enforce the law and help the police in crime prevention operations, it has no authority to charge or detain suspects.
Only the police can arrest and detain a suspect who they are allowed to keep for a maximum of 48 hours before charging and bringing them to court. Once the matter is in court a suspect can either be granted bail or be held in custody by the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS).

Lawyers say the detention of minors at the barracks violates the Children’s Protection Act.
Even the police are only allowed to detain a minor for a day before either taking them to a court or releasing them back to their guardians. Only a court can commit a minor to a juvenile centre under the LCS.
Advocate Tekane Maqakachane, a prominent lawyer who is also a law lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), says neither the constitution nor the LDF Act gives the army authority to detain or rehabilitate civilian crime suspects.

“It is the Lesotho Correctional Service that has that legal mandate and training, not the Lesotho Defence Force,” Advocate Maqakachane says.
He says the LDF Act gives the army the mandate to “maintain essential services including maintenance of law and order and prevention of crime”.
He says the Commissioner of Police should have requested the army for a joint operation if the police could not handle the alleged gangsters.
“We don’t dispute that the army did a good job of arresting the suspected criminals, saving villagers from more harm, but they should have handed them over to the police”.

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli told thepost that “the boys could only be arrested if they were suspected of crimes not because they are gang members”.
“So far, there are no direct crimes they are suspected to have committed,” S/Supt Mopeli said.

Captain Lekola said the suspects would face the law but did not say they would be handed over to the police. The army arrested the alleged gangsters last week after their pictures holding knives and drugs went viral on social media.
Papali Ralitapole, a parent of one of the detainees, said the boys “need spiritual help as they made confessions of their heinous acts”.
“We plead with the security institutions not to beat them. We are asking for forgiveness from all their victims on their behalf,” Ralitapole said.

The village chief of Koalabata, Chieftainess ’Makhomo Makoanyane, said the alleged gangsters could be linked to a spate of killings since 2015.
She said they have been told that the fights between the gangs started after some of them allegedly leaked some secrets of what happened at an initiation school. The operations of an initiation school are shrouded in secrecy.

According to Lesotho’s cultural laws, it is an offence to reveal information about an initiation school.
Chieftainess Makoanyane said apart from fighting each other, the gangs are now terrorising the community.
“We lost hope when they started to stab each other with knives and other sharp weapons until some of their lungs came out,” she said. “The boys are cold-blooded killers who kill each other without mercy,” she said.
“They do not kill us the elders but they disrespect us when looking for their targets.”

She gave the example of how the gangsters killed a soldier’s son.
“They went to his house and disrespectfully ignored elders in the house as they searched for him, may his soul rest in peace.”
She said the boys use knives, garden spades and arrows.
“To these boys, death is nothing, we are always affected by deaths but they feel nothing.”

Chieftainess Makoanyane said she is the one who asked for the army’s intervention after realising that the police were not doing enough to save the villagers from criminals.
“I did not hesitate to call (the commander) on his phone.”
“I know there is a Born-to-Kill gang and Prankers gang, I know all of you,” she said.

Lieutenant Tšehlo, from the LDF, said they are trying to bring peace to Koalabata, Naleli, and the surrounding places.
“We are going to teach them to love their people and be patriotic,” he said.
He said “the boys must learn their responsibilities”.
A Warrant Officer with the military police said he is in charge of the boys while they are in counselling.
“Here we have two sides of the gangs who did not see eye to eye,” he said adding that the boys are working and eating together “so that they go and teach others back at the village”.

Nkheli Liphoto

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