. . . alleges cover up of former army chief’s death
THE family of the slain former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, has accused the government of covering up investigations into his killing by involving the army in the probe.
Lt-Gen Mahao’s brother, Professor Nqosa Mahao, yesterday told the Sunday Express they were briefed by Southern African Development Community (SADC) Facilitator to Lesotho, South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa, on developments in the investigation of his killing.
Mr Ramaphosa visited Lesotho on Friday to hold talks with various stakeholders, including the government, opposition parties, civil society organisations, chiefs and the Christian Council of Lesotho ahead of the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government scheduled for Mbabane, Swaziland from 29-31 August 2016. Mr Ramaphosa also paid a courtesy call on King Letsie III before leaving the country on the same day.
Prof Mahao said they were told by Mr Ramaphosa, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had commissioned a joint task team, comprising of members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service and the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), to start investigations on the circumstances surrounding the army chief’s death.
Lt-Gen Mahao was shot dead as he left his Mokema farm on 25 June 2015 by soldiers who had come to arrest him following accusations of being part of a group of soldiers plotting to overthrow the army leadership. However, Lt-Gen Mahao’s family has accused the army of killing him in cold blood basing on the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.
After the killing, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili asked SADC to help establish the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, resulting in a Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana. The 10-member commission carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.
Prof Mahao said they held a meeting with Mr Ramaphosa to get an update on the progress made by the government in implementing SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations, “especially with regard to the assassination of my brother, Maaparankoe, because that’s where we come in.”
“We were told there was no progress at all made by the government so far with regards to the investigations into the assassination of Maaparankoe,” he said.
“As if that is not shocking enough, Mr Ramaphosa informed us about a joint task team comprising of police and army members which would undertake the investigations.
“This development has come as a shocking disappointment to the family. Can you really expect the army to investigate itself? My own impression is Maaparankoe’s killing was far from an accident. His assassination by the army was well planned and authorised by the Defence Minister (Tšeliso Mokhosi) and probably the prime minister himself. They are all suspects in the assassination of Maaparankoe.”
Prof Mahao said the government was “playing tricks” to avoid a probe into the killing.
“It is clear the government of Lesotho has no interest and will to bring to justice the perpetrators of a heinous crime committed by the army. The question is why is the government protecting these perpetrators? It shows they know exactly who did this, and will play all manner of tricks to protect the perpetrators.”
He said the army should have no role in investigating the case.
“The police are the ones who investigate criminal cases, and upon completion of their investigations they compile, a docket is submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions,” said the National University of Lesotho vice-chancellor.
“The autonomy of the criminal justice system should not be violated by engaging the army. Once again, it is clear the government of Lesotho has no interest for justice because they plotted Maaparankoe’s death. We knew that even before they assassinated him.”
He said they were also informed by Mr Ramaphosa the government was working towards enacting of a general amnesty law “so that even Maaparankoe’s killers cannot be prosecuted”.
Among the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations was an amnesty for the 23 soldiers facing mutiny charges before the Court Martial.
Addressing parliament in June, Dr Mosisili described the idea of an amnesty as “quite attractive”. However, he stressed it needed to be a “general amnesty” to include soldiers accused of other crimes such as murder.
“The prime minister is exploiting this recommendation by suggesting a general amnesty. SADC spent a lot of money to conduct its inquiry and concluded there was no evidence to prove the mutiny,” said Prof Mahao. “I think the commission used the wrong word to say the mutiny suspects should be given an amnesty. Amnesty is granted to people who have been prosecuted and found guilty.
“We are definitely going to challenge the general amnesty law the government is intending to enact because that would be unconstitutional. Amnesty does not apply in international crimes or extrajudicial matters such as the assassination of Maaparankoe by the army. This government continues to prove it is totally arrogant.”
Contacted for comment yesterday, Dr Mosisili’s Press Attaché, Motumi Ralejoe, said while the government “understood” the Mahao family’s position, “they should let the government to deal with matters according to the law”.
“The prime minister understands where the family is coming from, but people should understand there are laws to follow. There are procedures that are followed when cases are being investigated, right until when they are finalised by the courts,” he said.
Mr Ralejoe urged the Mahao family to “trust” the premier as he was addressing their concerns.
“When the prime minister says a matter will be investigated accordingly, he means it. They should give him time to address their matter,” he said.
Asked to confirm Prof Mahao’s claim the prime minister had commissioned a police and army probe team, Mr Ralejoe said: “I am not in a position to do that now because I don’t have the details. Perhaps it is only advisable to wait until the prime minister presents his report at the summit in Mbabane next week. If the prime minister has commissioned the task team, he will tell the summit why he did so.”
Repeated efforts to secure a comment from Mr Mokhosi were unsuccessful yesterday, as his phone rang unanswered until it was no longer reachable.
Following the shooting, government requested Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help probe the tragedy, resulting in a Commission of Inquiry led by Botswana judge, Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi.
After the probe, the Commission made several recommendations aimed at finding lasting harmony in the Kingdom.
Among the recommendations was the removal of army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli to restore Basotho’s trust in the LDF, criminal investigations into the death of Lt-Gen Mahao should be started and lead to prosecution, constitutional reforms, the suspension of LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into the allegations proceed in line with international best practice, as well as amnesty for the 23 soldiers facing mutiny charges before the Court Martial.