Kamoli zips lips at Lesotho inquiry
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Maseru – The much awaited Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s crisis is finally underway, though the man at the centre of the tiny Kingdom’s turmoil, army commander Tlali Kamoli, is refusing to answer key questions in public.
The public inquiry headed by Botswana High Court judge Mpaphi Phumaphi began more than a month late as the political parties in Lesotho haggled over its terms of reference. The commission includes military and legal experts from other Southern African countries.
The SADC appointed the commission mainly to investigate the killing of Kamoli’s predecessor, Maaparankoe Mahao, on 25 June 2015 by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). His family and the opposition claim he was killed on order of Kamoli, who had accused Mahao of plotting a mutiny.
But Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili tried to expand the terms of reference of the commission to include investigating the actions of his predecessor Thomas Thabane which Mosisili said had contributed to the instability in the country.
After much haggling, SADC restricted the commission to investigating Mahao’s death;Thabane’s firing of Kamoli last year – which sparked a coup attempt against Thabane on 30 August 2014- and Mosisili’s firing of Mahao and reinstatement of Mahao, after he defeated Thabane in elections in February this year.
The SADC also mandated the commission to probe the general political and security instability in Lesotho.
Opposition parties insist that Kamoli is the sole cause of Lesotho’s crisis. They say that after being returned to the LDF command by Mosisili, he masterminded a reign of terror against Thabane’s supporters, including the killing and torture of many Basotho, the most prominent of who is Mahao, and the exile of journalists, all opposition leaders and lawyers and members of the LDF accused of having plotted a mutiny.
Most of those in exile in South African have refused to return to testify before the commission, fearing reprisals. They have instead asked the commission to convene in South Africa to give them a chance to tell their sides of the story. The Commission has promised to consider the request.
At his first appearance before the commission at the weekend, Kamoli refused to answer key questions about how Mahao had been killed and about his advice to government on dealing with the media which he blamed for “inflaming” or “exaggerating” the Lesotho crisis.
Kamoli claimed most of the questions about Mahao’s death involved national security issues and he could only answer them in camera. He is due to be called back to give evidence in camera.
His mere appearance before the commission was seen as a sign of progress because he had initially hinted he might boycott the commission.
He petitioned the commission to investigate the Lesotho Defence Force as an institution rather than probing individuals like himself. He asked for all its hearings to be held in public. And he asked the commission to avoid investigating the alleged mutiny against Mosisili’s government which he said should be addressed through LDF court martial.
But the commission dismissed all of his demands, saying it had no right to alter its terms of reference defined by the SADC.
Ironically, Kamoli now wants to give his own evidence in camera after first demanding all evidence be heard in public. Holding all evidence in public would have prevented many witnesses from testifying. They fear reprisals from the LDF if they openly give evidence.
Kamoli told the commission that he had never refused to vacate office after being fired by Thabane on 29 August 2014, as has been widely alleged. But he accused Thabane of not following legal procedure in firing him.
But Justice Phumaphi, who is proving to be a no- nonsense operator, reminded Kamoli that there was a legal gazette signed by King Letsie III ordering his dismissal which he was obliged to comply with.
Kamoli said he had never seen that Gazette until later and he was never served a “show cause notice” explaining why he had been fired. Instead, he heard Thabane’s officials announcing his dismissal over the radio.
Kamoli caused much laughter in the packed auditorium when he was asked about his relationship with Thabane. He replied “if he (Thabane) were to enter this room now, he would come and hug me…kiss me”.
But the commissioners referred him to media interviews by Thabane in which the former premier made it clear that he could not “come back to Lesotho to get killed by Kamoli and his men”. Kamoli dismissed the clippings as the media’s own exaggerations.
Prime Minister Mosisili has also given evidence before the commission and has defended his decision to re-appoint the controversial Kamoli in February, saying the army commander had been unlawfully removed from office by Thabane.
Mosisili was also skittish on questions about how he could restore a man who, even before his August 30 attempted coup, had been implicated in other plots to kill his rivals. These included former police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana whose house was bombed by suspected members of the LDF in January 2014.
Kamoli subsequently refused to hand over to the police those implicated. Defence Minister Tseliso Mokhosi has also appeared before the commission and has given contradictory evidence about whether or not he knew about the operation to arrest Mahao, which ended in his death.
He initially said he had been informed that the army was hunting down mutineers, including Mahao, though he had not foreseen he could be killed. Then his story seemed to change to suggest that the LDF had only informed him of the operation against Mahao after the fact.
Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, whose rivalry with Thabane led to the collapse of their coalition and precipitated the whole crisis over the past 15 months, took the stand yesterday. His initial testimony focused on his history in Lesotho politics.
The commission has six months to complete its work. But there are big questions about whether or not its findings will be legally binding.
Mosisili’s government is hinting that it won’t be bound by any outcomes that will affect national security, a signal that it will decline to prosecute Kamoli and his cohorts should such a recommendation ever be made by the commission.
African News Agency