MASERU/JOHANNESBURG. – The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is to send a fact finding mission to Lesotho following the assassination of that country’s defence force chief‚ Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motsomotso.
Lt Gen Motsomotso was gunned down in his office at the Lesotho Defence Force’s headquarters in Maseru. His killers‚ armed with hand grenades and handguns‚ forced their way into his office‚ shooting him before attempting to flee the military compound. The two Lesotho army officers – Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi – were shot dead in a shootout with Lt Gen Motsomotso’s bodyguards and other soldiers.
The gunmen‚ according to Lesotho’s permanent secretary for the Ministry of Defence and National Security‚ Colonel Tanki Mothae – were under criminal investigation along with a number of other soldiers for the murder of Lesotho’s former defence force commander‚ General Maaparanko Mahao in 2015.
In a statement President Jacob Zuma‚ who has taken over chairmanship of SADC‚ said he was revolted by Motsomotso’s murder. President Zuma was attending the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China when the assassination of Lt Gen Motsomotso took place. He said the killing had created a “dangerous pattern in the Kingdom of Lesotho”.
“This unfortunate incident happens so soon after the Kingdom of Lesotho had conducted peaceful and democratic elections which SADC had thought were to bring political normalcy and stability in the country.”
He said SADC would dispatch a Ministerial Fact Finding Mission to Lesotho on Thursday to assess the situation and determine the required intervention mechanism.
President Zuma called for “absolute calm and restraint”.
The killing follows the recent arrest of several soldiers in connection with the murder of former Lesotho Defence Force Commander General Maaparanko Mahao in 2015. Motsomotso’s death has sparked fears of yet another attempted coup in the mountain kingdom‚ which in 2014‚ was rocked by an attempted military coup.
Mothae said that both Sechele and Hashatsi‚ and several other soldiers‚ who were recently arrested‚ were facing a criminal investigation for their alleged involvement in Mahao’s murder.
He said a Southern African Development Community inquiry had identified Motsomotso’s killers as having played a role in Mahao’s murder.
“The investigation into Motsomotso’s murder is underway. The motive at this stage is still unknown.” He said handguns and hand grenades had been recovered from the scene of the shooting.
Mothae said members of the defence force‚ who were stationed both in and outside of Maseru‚ had been addressed by their commanders.
“Obviously there was a lot of confusion. Troops were addressed to restore calm.” He said that he had been in contact with the various embassies in Lesotho to inform them of the situation.
“The situation at this time in Maseru is calm. Life is carrying on as normal.”
Mothae’s reassurances of calm follow South African defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula holding an urgent meeting on Tuesday with the South African National Defence Force’s “relevant stakeholders” to discuss the Lesotho situation.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokesperson‚ Joy Peters‚ said that the minister was being kept informed of the situation.
“The situation is being monitored. No decision has been taken on any deployments of the South African National Defence Force as of yet.”
South African National Defence Force spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said that the situation prevailing in Lesotho was a SADC matter. He said that in the recent past‚ up until the successful elections‚ the situation had been dealt with by the SADC.
“The prevailing situation will now still require a SADC intervention‚” he said when asked if South African troops were being placed on high alert. – Times Live/Herald Reporter