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Row over army secrets

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MASERU – THERE was a tense moment at the High Court this week when an army general revealed some highly classified information about the army’s operations. Major General Lineo Poopa was testifying as a state witness in a case against Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli and other soldiers when he revealed the location of a small armoury at Ratjomose Barracks.

Major General Poopa was explaining the whereabouts of the late Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao’s gun and spectacles after he was killed. He said the items were kept in a small armoury in the army commander’s office.

That information triggered audible murmurs from suspects in the dock who include Lt Gen Kamoli and eight other soldiers. A group of military intelligence officers sitting in the gallery also reacted with shock and briefly walked out.

Defence lawyers fumed at Justice Charles Hungwe and crown counsel Advocate Shaun Abrahams for allowing Major Gen Poopa to talk about the armoury in open court. Some of the suspects in the dock could be seen whispering to the defence lawyers.

Their discomfort appears to have started as soon as Advocate Shaun Abrahams asked Major Gen Poopa, the fourth crown witness, about the armoury. Even before Major Gen Poopa could answer, some suspects in the dock had already stood up.

Defence lawyers argued that Justice Hungwe should not have allowed the answer to that question to be given in open court, reasoning that it was breaching national security. Before Major Gen Poopa could answer Advocate Kabelo Letuka objected, saying it was “unethical for the crown to have asked that question”.

“This question, if answered, would put the security of this country in danger as it would be exposing their secrecy to the country’s enemies,” Advocate Letuka said.

Justice Hungwe, however, overruled the objection. Advocate Letuka said Justice Hungwe and Advocate Abrahams might not understand the implications of that question on Lesotho’s secrets because they are foreigners.

He explained that the previous crown witness, Colonel Thato Phaila, refused to answer a question about the total number of soldiers in Lesotho.

“You my lord ordered the media to go outside respecting that decision made by Phaila,” Advocate Letuka said.

“Now why do you allow the most dangerous question to be answered in public?” he said.

“As for you Mr Abrahams, in your country you would never allow this to happen but since you are a foreigner you will just do as you please.”

Major General Poopa explained that the armoury is kept in the office of the commander who was the only person with access to it.

This he said after he explained that during Lt Gen Mahao’s murder investigation, the late commander Lt Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo had told him that some of Lt Gen Mahao’s items were kept in the armoury.

He said after Lieutenant General Motšomotšo died he acted as the commander and co-operated with the police investigations. Major Gen Poopa said he was still using his deputy commander’s office even after he was appointed the acting commander.

He said he received a letter from the police requesting Lt Gen Mahao’s items. He said since Lt Gen Motšomotšo had told him that there were items belonging to Lt Gen Mahao which were in the custody of the army in the office of the commander, he went into that office to go and look for them.

“When I arrived in that office I met the commander’s personal assistant, Palesa Mahamo, who has been working in that office for a long time serving previous commanders till now,” he said.

“I asked her if she knew about those items and she said yes. I then asked her to go and show them to me and she did,” he said.

“They were situated in the small armoury in the office of the commander and only the commander himself has access to it,” he said.

Major General Poopa explained that it was at that moment that he realised that even the personal assistant, Palesa Mahamo, knew how to open the armoury. He said even him as the deputy commander did not have access to the armoury and he did not know how to open it.

He said they found a pistol with bullets and spectacles belonging to Lt Gen Mahao.

“I then called Colonel Ntšehi and ordered him to take those items to the police,” he said.

He said later people began to be arrested.

’Malimpho Majoro

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BNP wins rescission order against SG

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MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) this week successfully applied for a rescission of a court order that would have seen the party’s secretary general, Thato Lethobane, being awarded M126 000. Lethobane’s case will now be heard again at the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) on Monday.

The party raised technical legal reasons that prompted the cancellation of the award that ordered the party to pay Lethobane for the time he did not receive his salary since his suspension.

Lethobane was suspended in October last year after he was accused of embezzling party funds and he asked the DDPR to order the party to pay him from October last year to April this year.

The BNP deputy secretary, Moeketsi Hanyane, who is holding forte at the party’s administration, told thepost last night that “Lethobane’s glow was short-lived and was wrong in the first place”.

“The DDPR award against us will not see the light of day because Lethobane got suspended for two years after we discovered that he stole the party’s funds,” Hanyane said.

“A thief is a thief and we cannot allow him to claim monies he is unworthy of,” he said.

“We have opened a case against him at the police and he cannot come around and say we owe him.”

Hanyane said Lethobane was suspended for two years so that after that period, if he still loved wanted to be part of the party, he could come and participate in its affairs again.

“The suspension was not meant to put him aside for a while to allow investigations but it is a punishment for what we found on him,” he said.

Hanyane said Lethobane is not owed anything for that period because he is officially out of office as a result of the punishment he got from the party not because he was suspended pending investigations.

He said the BNP did not defend itself at the DDPR and the arbitrator ruled in favour of Lethobane in default.

“We did not go to the DDPR on technical issues and we have since applied for and acquired a rescission of the award,” he said.

Lethobane declined to get into the details of his case with the BNP but only confirmed that he had won an award at the DDPR.

“After I realised how much they owed me I decided to go to labour and successfully claimed my payment,” he said.

“The case judgment was done in my favor, even though I will not discuss that issue much.”

The party pays its secretary general M18 000 per month.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Killer police investigated

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MASERU – PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro has set up a special team to investigate police officers who killed a student during a protest at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) last week. Majoro’s decision comes as pressure mounts on the government and the police to identify the officers who pulled the trigger and bring them to justice.

The police killed Kopano Makutoane and seriously injured six more students on Thursday last week during a strike over their stipends that were not paid in full. Makutoane was shot with multiple live bullets in the face.

Police Minister Lepota Sekola, Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli and Development Planning Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, confirmed that a team has been set up but were reluctant to give further details. thepost has been told that the police have zeroed in on 12 police officers who were part of the team that responded to the protest.

The police management is said to be close to suspending some of the officers and opening a murder case against them. Their names cannot, however, be revealed because they have not been officially identified and charged.

Majoro visited the Makutoane family last week and promised justice for their slain son. The strike was triggered by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS)’s delay to pay students their monthly stipends.

Those who received the allowances only got M450 instead of their usual monthly stipend of M1 100. Several eyewitnesses and victims told thepost that the police conducted raids targeting NUL students even after the protesters had dispersed. Sello Khechane, a second-year student, said the police fired live ammunition at the protesters.

“We started fleeing the place and did not even realise that one of us was shot near the gate,” Khechane said.

One of the injured students said about 20 police officers knocked at her rented room when she was sleeping, dragged her out and beat her with sticks and truncheons.

“I was still wearing my gown and was not even part of the protest,” she said.

Another girl who had visited her brother was caught in the crossfire as police went on the rampage.

“I was watching a movie when I saw a mob of police approaching the door and asking all of us in the house to come out,” she said.

She said the police used sticks and kicked her.

“I tried to convince them that I am not a student there, but they refused to listen,” she said.

The Social Development Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, said he immediately intervened when he was informed of the disagreement between the Students’ Representative Council and the NMDS management over the stipends.

“The school told us that there was a problem as students walked out of examination rooms.”

He also said the NMDS told him that there is a law that says students should not get full amounts when their school days are cut short during a month.

“We made a decision that students should get full amounts,” he said.

He said the students were notified that they would get full amounts but continued with the strike.

“I am sorry that one student lost his life.” The incident has sparked an outcry from different political parties.

The Basotho Action Party (BAP) leader and former Vice-Chancellor of the NUL, Professor Nqosa Mahao, condemned the killing saying it was the third time police have used force during protests and ended up taking lives.

“We are very saddened and embarrassed by this act,” Professor Mahao said.

He said they condemn the police actions that led to the death of the student, saying the behaviour by police shows that Basotho’s lives are not safe. He recalled that in 2009 the police shot a student during protests.

“They shot Tumelo Mohlomi in 2017, she was also shot by the police,” Professor Mahao said, adding that the police officers involved in the incident were not charged.

He blamed the conflicts on the NMDS management “that does not do its job correctly”. The Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) leader, Sam Matekane, met NUL students near the campus on Tuesday.

“We condemn that behaviour, it was uncalled for, it was not necessary,” Matekane said.

He said the police’s job is to protect and save people, not to kill people as they did or do.

“When promised sponsorship, we are expecting you to get them as promised,” he said.

“It does not make sense that someone can carry a gun and shoot an unarmed student.”

He also pledged to provide the students with transport to Quthing where Makutoane will be laid to rest.

“We will make sure that those who were affected get the necessary counselling and also help them,” he said.

The NUL management also condemned the killing and injuring of other students. In a statement, the university said it was aggrieved by “the plan by the NMDS to prorate the student’s allowance for June 2022”. The university pleaded with the students to remain calm, adding that it has started visiting all the affected families.

Staff Reporter

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Mafeteng magistrates’ court records burnt

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MASERU – A fire gutted the records section of the Mafeteng Magistrate’s Court last week. The police suspect it was an act of arson. Thousands of crucial case records were destroyed.

This could affect hundreds of cases that were pending in the court. Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli confirmed the incident, saying investigations have started but no arrests have been made.

“But our preliminary investigations show that the court was intentionally set on fire,” S/Supt Mopeli said.

“Important court documents have been set alight together with some chairs and a table.”

A source close to the case told thepost that a container of petrol was found outside a broken window. The guard was not at work when the incident happened.

In 2010 computers containing information on cars registered in Maseru and Leribe were burnt in a fire that police suspected was deliberately started to destroy records and cover up corruption.

The Integrated Financial Management System computers, National Transport Information System server, computers, and a printer were destroyed.

The incident happened as the police were investigating a syndicate that was illegally registering stolen cars.

In 2019 a fire at the Ministry of Health’s head office destroyed computers and records.

Although ministry officials said the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault, suspicions of foul play lingered on.

Majara Molupe

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