Former LDF chief Tlali Komoli. (File Picture: ANA)
Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, former commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), accused of overseeing atrocities, including an August 2014 coup, is in police custody.

Spokesperson Inspector Mpiti Mopeli said Kamoli had handed himself in on Wednesday and remains in custody pending the outcome of an interrogation.

Under Kamoli’s leadership, Lesotho lurched from one crisis to another. Assassination of government opponents became routine and at one stage all opposition leaders fled into exile until the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Kamoli’s main benefactor, earlier this year.

The new coalition government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had not been expected to make a move against Kamoli until a Southern African Development Community standby force expected on November 1 arrived. Thabane had asked for the standby force in case Kamoli and his supporters in the army decided to resist moves to hold them accountable for atrocities.

But the standby force’s arrival is mired in controversy after SADC army chiefs, meeting in Angola last week, decided to dispatch a third security assessment on October 18 before the deployment of the contingent force.

The move has infuriated Lesotho which argues that the security chiefs had no mandate to decide on the deployment of another force but only to determine its size as per the decision of a SADC double troika summit chaired by President Jacob Zuma last month.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi hinted that Lesotho would not allow another assessment mission after the deployment of at least 1 200 soldiers.

The SADC battalion would help protect Thabane’s government should Kamoli and other renegade soldiers resist arrest.

Makgothi travelled to Botswana to meet SADC executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax to voice concerns at the inevitable delay in sending the contingent force.

Makgothi told the Lesotho Times newspaper that the government wanted to know how the defence subcommittee of SADC army chiefs could “overrule” a decision of the SADC Double Troika Summit to deploy the contingent force. He said the subcommittee was only to have discussed and decided the force’s size, tenure and scope and not make a decision about deploying another assessment mission.

SADC dispatched a technical assessment team to assess the security situation in Lesotho after the September 5 assassination of Kamoli’s successor at the LDF, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motomoto by his subordinates Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.

Sechele and Hashatsi were in turn killed by Motomoto’s bodyguards in the aftermath of the assassination. The two surbodinates had gone to see Motomoto to protest against a decision to hand over accused soldiers for prosecution.

Kamoli was appointed as LDF commander by then prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili in early 2012. Thabane then won elections the same year and inherited Kamoli.

When he tried to fire him two years later in August 2014, Kamoli responded by staging a coup attempt, forcing Thabane to flee. He only returned a week later under heavy South African police guard.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s mediation saw Kamoli being temporarily removed from his post and being sent abroad alongside Maaparankoe Mahao, whom Thabane had appointed to replace Kamoli.

After Mosisili was returned to power following February 2015 elections called to resolve the crisis in Lesotho, after Thabane had fallen out with his coalition partner Methotjoa Metsing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Kamoli was returned to the helm of the LDF and Mahao was fired.

Kamoli immediately launched revenge attacks that saw the killing of Mahao by a group of army officers.

Numerous other opponents of Mosisili’s government were assassinated.

A commission of inquiry established by the SADC recommended Kamoli’s removal resulting in his ousting in December after the US had threatened to throw Lesotho out of the African Growth and Opportunity Act unless Kamoli was removed sooner.

Mosisili’s coalition collapsed and fresh elections, resoundingly won by Thabane, were held on June 3.

Thabane’s coalition government has committed to implementing all SADC recommendations which called for the prosecution of all soldiers involved in past atrocities. A number of LDF members have already been arrested and charged for crimes that were committed over the past few years.

Divers from the South African police have been in Lesotho to help in the search for the remains of people killed by soldiers and dumped into dams during Kamoli’s reign.

But it is the fear that soldiers being arrested could offer resistance that led SADC to agree to Lesotho’s request for a contingent force. - Independent Foreign Service