As bloc mulls re­duc­ing size of mooted 1 200-strong force to Le­sotho

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

THE South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) has de­ferred the de­ploy­ment of a 1 200-strong standby force to Le­sotho by up to two weeks, amid in­di­ca­tions the bloc in­tends to re­duce its size.

Se­cu­rity chiefs from the SADC re­gion are once again de­lib­er­at­ing on the standby force’s size in Gaborone, Botswana in a two­day meet­ing that be­gan yes­ter­day.

The meet­ing is also ex­pected to come up with a new date for the much-an­tic­i­pated de­ploy­ment which had been ini­tially sched­uled for yes­ter­day.

SADC had ini­tially agreed to the de­ploy­ment of 1 200-strong re­gional standby force com­pris­ing of 1 099 troops, 30 civil­ians, 34 po­lice of­fi­cers, one pathol­o­gist, four scuba divers and a po­lice mo­bile unit.

The force’s man­date is to as­sist the Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) in man­ag­ing the se­cu­rity cri­sis in the coun­try in the af­ter­math of the 5 Septem­ber 2017 as­sas­si­na­tion of com­man­der, Lieu­tenant-gen­eral Khoan­tle Motšo­motšo by his sub­or­di­nates Bri­gadier Bu­lane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.

The standby force is also ex­pected to help in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of se­cu­rity sec­tor re­forms rec­om­mended by the re­gional body. The gov­ern­ment of Namibia was the first to com­mit to con­tribut­ing 250 soldiers as part of the standby force last month.

How­ever, the re­gion’s se­cu­rity chiefs had ar­gued that the agreed num­ber of troops were too much and rec­om­mended a third se­cu­rity as­sess­ment mis­sion to Le­sotho.

Maseru re­fused to al­low the third mis­sion to come to the coun­try — whose visit had been sched­uled for 18 Oc­to­ber.

Le­sotho’s For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter, Le­sego Mak­gothi, vis­ited his An­golan coun­ter­part, Manuel Au­gusto in Luanda and SADC Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary Ster­gom­ena Tax in Botswana to re­mon­strate over the de­fence chiefs’ rec­om­men­da­tion.

The Le­sotho gov­ern­ment had ar­gued that the de­fence chiefs could not over­turn a de­ci­sion made a 15 Septem­ber 2017 Dou­ble Troika Sum­mit held in Pre­to­ria, South Africa.

How­ever, well-placed sources at the SADC head­quar­ters told the Le­sotho Times that the de­fence chiefs’ con­cerns on the size of the force were hold­ing sway de­spite Maseru’s protes­ta­tions.

The sources said the de­fence chiefs could have been in­flu­enced by some of­fi­cials in Le­sotho’s se­cu­rity sec­tor who were of the view that there was no need for a con­tin­gent force.

“Those sen­ti­ments by some of the se- curo­crats could have swayed the De­fence Sub Com­mit­tee into send­ing another as­sess­ment team,” the sources said.

The re­ported cost of US$$6.7 mil­lion (about M95.3 mil­lion) for the mis­sion, which would be borne by the re­gion, was another con­sid­er­a­tion dur­ing the talks, they said.

The sources said it would likely take up to two weeks be­fore the di­min­ished re­gional force ar­rived in Le­sotho.

“It is likely that they will amend the num­bers be­cause the gen­eral feel­ing was that 1 200 is too large a num­ber for a standby force for Le­sotho,” the sources said.

De­fence and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter, Sen­tje Le­bona, yes­ter­day con­firmed that the re­gional standby force would no longer ar­rive in Le­sotho yes­ter­day as ex­pected.

Mr Le­bona said that the de­fence chiefs’ meet­ing in Botswana would de­cide on a new date.

“The 1 Novem­ber 2017 date was ini­tially set at the Dou­ble Troika meet­ing (on 15 Septem­ber 2017) but things have since changed now due to lo­gis­tics and other im­por­tant is­sues,” Mr Le­bona said.

“As we speak, SADC de­fence chiefs, in­tel­li­gence per­son­nel and the po­lice con­vened a two-day meet­ing end­ing to­day to de­lib­er­ate on the new date.”

Mr Le­bona said the standby force’s de­ploy­ment would be guided by the out­comes of the Botswana meet­ing.

For his part, De­fence and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary Re­tired Colonel Tanki Mothae said the standby force’s de­ploy­ment was work in progress that needed to be han­dled with cau­tion.

“Where it con­cerns mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment into another coun­try, there are a lot of se­cu­rity lo­gis­tics that must be fol­lowed and soldiers from other coun­tries don’t just cross the bor­der, there is a whole lot of a process in­clud­ing the is­su­ing of li­cences for their am­mu­ni­tion,” Rtd Col Mothae said.

DE­FENCE Min­istry Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary Re­tired Colonel Tanki Mothae

NA­TIONAL Se­cu­rity PS Re­tired Colonel Tanki Mothae.

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