Guarantee Metsing’s safety: opposition

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU –Opposition parties yesterday issued fresh demands for written government guarantees of former Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s safety when he returns home to participate in key national reforms. The parties said yesterday the guarantee would free them to fully participate in the process which the African Union (AU) and the Sadc hope will help dig Lesotho out of years of self-inflicted instability.

According to the Coalition of Opposition Parties in Parliament, the signing of the anticipated agreement, which is currently in draft form and whose copy would soon be forwarded to Sadc Facilitator to Lesotho, President Cyril Ramaphosa, should be signed publicly and “witnessed by members of the international community resident in Lesotho” as well as the Sadc Oversight Committee in Lesotho and the Sadc Facilitator.

“We trust that the government of Lesotho and the Sadc will view this step not only as positive, but also as a transparent and inclusive way to ensure that the political leadership of Lesotho moves forward in unison towards reforms,” leader of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) Lekhetho Rakuoane said yesterday.

“Once the agreement is concluded, our expectation is that it will be publicly signed and witnessed by members of the international community resident in Lesotho, as well as the Sadc Oversight Committee and the Sadc Facilitator. “The nation will be kept informed of the developments in this important step, as we expect the draft agreement to be in the hands of the Sadc Facilitator in a few days.”

Speaking on the behalf of opposition leaders at a media briefing at the LCD headquarters yesterday, Rakuoane said at a meeting in Ladybrand, on Wednesday, they had resolved that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane reduce to writing a pledge he had made to withdraw an extradition request for Metsing. In a letter dated 22 August 2018 Thabane extended an olive branch to Metsing, by undertaking to withdraw Maseru’s extradition request lodged against him in South Africa where he has been holed up for a year.

Flanked by MFP leader Moeketse Malebo, LCD Deputy spokesperson Apesi Rats’ele and DC spokesperson Serialong Qoo, Rakuaone said “it would be prudent to put everything on paper and sign it”. Hence, Rakuoane said they were “currently preparing and finalising” a draft agreement between government and the opposition “based on the position of government at last week’s National Leadership Forum (NLF)” which would be delivered to Ramaphosa “for onward transmission to the government of Lesotho”.

“We are currently preparing and finalising a draft agreement between government and opposition, based on the position of government at the national leadership forum. The draft agreement will be furnished to the Sadc Facilitator to Lesotho, for onward transmission to the Kingdom of Lesotho,” Rakuoane said.

“We are convinced that all sides will find the draft agreement an acceptable working document to ensure the safe return of all exiles. We applaud government for the lucid position made publicly at the forum. And as previously suggested, the return of Honourale Metsing and others is the final lap in the race towards inclusivity in the reforms process.”

According to Rakuoane, Thabane’s letters to Ramaphosa dated 8 and 22 August were “indeed” acceptable as letters of intent to resolve the impasse relating to Metsing’s return to Lesotho “and all exiled opposition leaders currently in South Africa”. “Both the letters of intent carry the right spirit towards a final resolution of this matter.”

Rakuoane added they could not approach the Multi-stakeholder National Dialogue scheduled for October, 18, 2018 and the reforms as a disjointed leadership, hence it was crucial that Metsing be confident to return home under a safe and conducive environment. “We view the return of our colleague Mr Metsing as crucial to ensure our smooth and unfettered participation in the Dialogue leading to the reforms. We trust that government and Sadc will view this step not only as positive but also as a transparent and inclusive way to ensure that the political leadership of Lesotho moves forward in unison towards reforms,” Rakuoane said.

But Foreign Affairs International Relations Minister Lesego Makgothi yesterday said government had not received any communication from either Metsing or his opposition colleagues.According to Makgothi, Metsing had not yet responded to Thabane’s letter inviting him to indicate when he would return to Lesotho and that they were “waiting for Metsing to make the initial move”, which meant they could also “not withdraw the extradition against him”.“Mr Metsing has not told us what he is planning now and when he intends to return to Lesotho.

As government we have also not moved an inch with regards to formally withdrawing the extradition. We wait for him to make the initial move as stated in the PM’s letter. “You are aware that for us to get to this point, we wrote two letters, the second of which was almost a complete amendment of the first one, whose content the opposition had an issue with and rejected.

“We then wrote the second letter, almost completely amending the first one. We urged that he returned home quickly or at least commit himself in writing as to when he would return, in order for us to facilitate the withdrawal of extradition request against him. As things stand, we wait to hear from him,” he said. Makgothi further urged Metsing to return to Lesotho, assuring him that government had done its part to extend an olive branch adding “nothing bad will happen to him”.

“We urge him to return home. We are extending an olive branch. Nothing bad will happen to him, his security is assured and will be so until we are also convinced, that he doesn’t feel threatened and that he is not under any threat. He needs to come and participate in the reforms process,” Makgothi said. These demands could be perceived as throwing a spanner in the wheels of a deal brokered by Justice Dikgang Moseneke who is Ramaphosa’s special envoy to Lesotho.

Under this deal, Thabane undertook to withdraw the extradition request against Metsing, to allow him to return to Lesotho to participate in the reforms. Metsing fled Lesotho in August 2017, alleging he had received intelligence that he was going to be arrested, shortly after his party’s deputy leader Ts’eliso Mokhosi was allegedly tortured by the police over the murder of Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng.

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