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Cablegate: Lesotho: Alleged Coup Plotters Free in South Africa

VZCZCXRO3282
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHRN
DE RUEHMR #0500/01 2291455
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171455Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY MASERU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3295
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHMR/AMEMBASSY MASERU 3688

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MASERU 000500

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR AF/S; GABORONE FOR RSO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM ASEC PINS SF LT
SUBJECT: LESOTHO: ALLEGED COUP PLOTTERS FREE IN SOUTH AFRICA

REF: A) MASERU 488; B) MASERU 452; C) MASERU 439; and D) MASERU 398

MASERU 00000500 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On August 14, three of the six Lesotho
nationals accused of coup plotting in Lesotho, and reportedly
granted political asylum in South Africa, walked free from a
magistrate court in Gauteng Province after posting bail. Crowds
of their supporters, bused in from Maseru, packed the courtroom.
On August 15, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) named
six additional Basotho individuals, including the former
commander of the defunct Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA), as
wanted in connection with June 2007 attacks on GOL ministerial
residences. The presence of figures such as All Basotho
Convention (ABC) Leader Thomas Thabane at the Gauteng Province
trial indicates that the fate of those accused of "coup
plotting" and living in self-imposed exile in South Africa will
continue to be a hot political topic in the Mountain Kingdom and
may have interesting implications for the South Africa-Lesotho
bilateral relationship. END SUMMARY.

-------------------------------------

South Africa Releases Three Accused

By Lesotho of "Coup Plotting" on Bail

-------------------------------------

2. (U) According to local political and media sources, on August
14 three of the six Basotho men accused of "coup plotting" in
Lesotho who sought political asylum in South Africa (ref B)
appeared before the Sebokeng Magistrate Court in Gauteng
Province, South Africa. South African police apparently
arrested Khotso Lebakeng, Phakiso Semoli, and Elias Motlomelo
subsequent to an arrest and extradition request from the Lesotho
Mounted Police Service (LMPS) which cited them and three others
for charges including armed robbery, attempted murder, and
unlawful possession of rifles. The South African court granted
the men bail and warned them not to leave the country. Each of
the three posted bail of 4,750 rand (approximately $680) and are
expected to reappear in court on September 18. The magistrate
stated that the court required this time to review documents
relating to Lesotho's extradition request and the men's
political asylum applications. The whereabouts of the other
three accused "coup plotters" who fled to South Africa --
Makotoko Lerotholi, Mokherane Tsatsanyane, and Thabo Thants'i --
are unknown.

3. (U) The families of Lebakeng, Semoli, and Motlomelo chartered
several buses to transport supporters of the three men from
Maseru to South Africa for the August 14 court appearance.
According to Embassy contacts, these supporters filled the court
to capacity, and included Thomas Thabane, the principal leader
of Lesotho's political opposition; and Attorney Hae Phoofolo, a
well-known Mosotho human rights lawyer. Part of the proceedings
was carried live by Lesotho's politically-oriented religious
radio station Harvest FM.

------------------------------------------

More Arrest Warrants, More LLA Connections

------------------------------------------

4. (U) On August 15, the LMPS issued a press release naming an
additional six men wanted in connection with the June 2007
attacks on GOL ministerial residences (ref D). The statement
listed the following men as wanted by the LMPS: Lits'itso
Sekamane (former Member of Parliament and former Commander of
the defunct Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA, ref A)); Thabiso
Mahase (former LLA member and estranged husband of High Court
Judge Mahase - ref C); Shadrack Chakela (traditional musician);
Lefa Ramantsoe; Tlala Lets'olo; and a South African citizen by
the name of "Alex" (no further information available). The LMPS
appealed to the public to provide information concerning the
whereabouts of the six men.

------------------------------------

Shifting Charges Engender Skepticism

MASERU 00000500 002.2 OF 002

------------------------------------

5. (SBU) COMMENT: The fact that Lebakeng, Semoli, and Motlomelo
are under extradition threat for charges that were never leveled
against them in Lesotho (where they are charged solely with high
treason) has engendered skepticism in Lesotho's opposition
circles. Two names on the LMPS's new list of individuals wanted
in connection with the June 2007 attacks on ministerial
residences are well known former LLA members, a pattern of
association with the former insurgent group noted in previous
reporting (ref A). The presence of figures such as All Basotho
Convention (ABC) Leader Thomas Thabane in Gauteng Province for
the trial of Lebakeng, Semoli, and Motlomelo indicates that the
fate of those accused of "coup plotting" and living in
self-imposed exile in South Africa will continue to be a hot
political topic in the Mountain Kingdom and may have interesting
implications for the South Africa-Lesotho bilateral
relationship. END COMMENT.
MURPHY

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