Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had wanted to continue with suspended court martial proceedings against more than 50 soldiers accused of supporting ex-army chief Maaparankoe Mahao in an alleged mutiny, his press attaché Motumi Ralejoe told African News Agency.
Mahao was shot dead by soldiers in June and last month Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders appointed an independent commission of inquiry to investigate his death and surrounding circumstances.
Mosisili told his fellow leaders that the 30-day extension – to November 10 – they had granted the commission at the summit to complete its work meant the soldiers would have to remain detained without being charged for even longer. The Lesotho Defence Force Act stipulates that they should not be detained without being charged for more than 42 days.
Human rights groups have complained that the soldiers have already been in detention for more than 70 days.
In a statement on Monday night, Mosisili’s office said the Lesotho Defence Force should be at liberty to proceed with the court martial because the soldiers had already appeared in a court of law when their relatives won habeas corpus orders requiring the army to produce the detainees to show they were still alive. He said SADC’s extension of the commission’s terms of reference made it necessary to proceed with the courts martial.
The soldiers were not charged in a civilian court.
A South African government delegate who attended the closed summit session on Monday afternoon, where Sunday night’s decisions of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation were confirmed, said new SADC chairperson Ian Khama had come down hard on Mosisili. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe handed over the SADC chairmanship to Khama on Monday.
President Jacob Zuma, who had chaired the organ until this weekend, also “became quite irritated”.
“Lesotho wanted to contest some of the commission’s terms of reference, saying it was out of line with their Constitution,” he said.
But Khama wasn’t having any of that. “He said he isn’t interested in their Constitution and that the SADC decision was final.”
Mosisili queried why the word “provisional” appeared in the terms of reference, but Khama made it clear that this didn’t mean the terms of reference were up for debate.
“[Khama] said to him it was provisional in SADC, but final for Lesotho and they have to take these terms and reference as they are and go and gazette it,” the delegate said.
Mosisili had already angered SADC’s Lesotho mediator, South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, by attempting to gazette SADC’s terms of reference together with those suggested by his own government.
The full SADC summit decided on Monday that the terms of reference of the commission would not be extended “due to financial and tie constraints” as well as the expertise and the competencies of the present commissioners, Mosisili’s office said in a statement.
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre, a Johannesburg-based rule of law advocacy group, recently expressed concerns that the Lesotho government wanted to extend the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry to re-examine the appointment of the Judge President of the Court of Appeal, which could pave the way for appointing the controversial and criminally-accused former Chief Justice of Swaziland, the organisation said.
The government also wanted to examine various decisions, some of them administrative, taken by former prime minister Tom Thabane.
The independent commission of inquiry was appointed by SADC leaders last month and is headed by Botswana judge Mpaphi Phumaphi.
Its mandate is probe the recent killing of Mahao by soldiers, allegations by the government of a mutiny plot in the army, as well as the tension between the police and the military. – ANA