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Torture allegations haunt LDF top officer

Business

Mohloai Mpesi

Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)’s senior officer Colonel Tefo Ramosie who was appointed president of the court martial convened to try a soldier accused of disobedience to orders has recused himself amid allegations of his involvement in the 2015 torture.

The accused, Corporal TÅ¡itso Mahase, said Ramosie should step aside because he tortured him at Setibing in 2015 leading to lifelong damage that has affected his career as he can no longer carry out certain military duties.

Mahase is accused of failing to obey lawful orders issued by his superiors.

He argues that he was unable to carry out those orders due to infirmity caused by the torture and ill-treatment he suffered at the hands of Ramosie in 2015.

His lawyer, advocate TÅ¡olo Kalake, then asked Ramosie to be disqualified from presiding over the matter.

“During the trial, are going to show the accused was incapable to carry out the tasks, we have medical records to prove that. We are going to cross-examine witnesses and lead evidence showing that the accused was physically unfit to carry out the instructions,” Kalake said.

“When we demonstrate that before the court, the accused will give evidence concerning the sitting president, Commando Colonel Ramosie. We are going to lead evidence that points out that he directly or indirectly contributed to such medical incapability, that in 2015 he tortured the present accused,” he added.

Kalake said it was on this basis that Mahase objected to the sitting of Ramosie as president of the court.

Ramosie agreed to recuse himself.

“Since what we want is a fair trial for the accused, I have decided to recuse myself from the matter, thus, your application has been accepted. What we need is a fair trial for the accused person,” Ramosie said.  

The trial was postponed to July this year.

Newsday understands that Ramosie was a Warrant Officer in 2015.

He was the commander of the LDF contingent that was deployed to Mozambique in August 2021 as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) initiative to assist the Mozambican government in the fight against Islamic terrorists in the northern parts of the country.

To understand Mahase’s gripe with Ramosie, it is important to look back into history.

In August 2014, the then LDF commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli was relieved of his post by the then prime minister Thomas Thabane and replaced with Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao.

But Kamoli refused to step aside, challenging the legitimacy of his removal.

In the ensuing standoff, the army attacked police stations and the state house, forcing Thabane to flee the country claiming the attacks were an attempted coup.

Mahao’s residence was also attacked and his cars were riddled with bullets.

Kamoli, Mahao, and Khothatso TÅ¡ooana, then Commissioner of Police (COMPOL) were later sent abroad on special leave by Southern African Development Community (SADC) Facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa while he tried to resolve the security crisis.

Snap elections were held in February 2015. Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) failed to form a new coalition and Thabane had to cede power to his rival, Pakalitha Mosisili.

In May 2015, Mosisili reinstated Kamoli to his position as LDF commander and backdated the reinstatement to August 2014 when Thabane had fired him.

He also reversed Mahao’s appointment, saying Kamoli’s dismissal and Mahao’s appointment were illegal.

Shortly before Kamoli’s reinstatement, the army started arresting soldiers accused of planning an anti-Kamoli uprising. A legion of other soldiers fled the country and hid in South Africa.

Those arrested were allegedly tortured at the Setibing Military Base deep in the mountains. One of the alleged torturers, Mahase said this week, was Ramosie.

Mahao was shot on June 25, 2015, allegedly while resisting arrest by soldiers sent to arrest him for supposed complicit in the mutiny plot.

SADC then established a judicial commission of inquiry into the killing. The commission found that the alleged mutiny plot was highly suspect and recommended stern action against Mahao’s killers.

It also recommended that Kamoli be fired. It further recommended amnesty covering the arrested soldiers and those that skipped the country.

The mutiny charges were quashed by the martial court in 2017 and the former suspects reintegrated into the army.

11 of them later teamed up to launch a court application against the LDF demanding millions of maloti in damages for torture, assault, and abduction they claimed they were subjected to in 2015.

The LDF command then accused them of mutiny and hastily set up a board of inquiry to investigate their conduct. The soldiers were suspended.

The board was later dissolved and the soldiers’ suspensions were lifted.

Mahase’s family alleges that when he went back to work, he was given tasks he could not undertake due to his medical condition caused by the 2015 torture.

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