Court hears of Lesotho coup plot

2010-07-17 07:58

Bloemfontein - Two illegal immigrants caught near Ladybrand last year told the police they were involved in an attempted coup in Lesotho, an extradition hearing heard on Friday.

The Bloemfontein Regional Court was hearing an extradition application by the Lesotho government for Alberto Makwakwa, 40, Angelo Mondlani, 38, Mangani Malenge, 44, Abel Nhatsane, 45, George Thomas, 44, Fransisco Mandlani, 38, and Rocky Mazinga, 38.

The seven men were arrested in the Free State after gunmen opened fire on and stormed Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's house in Maseru on April 22 2009.

A police detective on border duty at the time, Lieutenant-Colonel Rathehiso Letseleha said he questioned several men who were caught along the border on April 22 and later.

He went to meet a wounded man at the Mantsopa hospital, in Ladybrand, who identified himself only as George Thomas.

They had difficulty in understanding each other as the wounded man spoke a foreign language.

This man was later transferred to the Pelonomi hospital in Bloemfontein.

Bullet-ridden bodies

Letseleha testified that he later questioned another illegal immigrant, named Alberto, who said he was shot by the Lesotho Defence Force while trying to take over the (Lesotho) government.

Letseleha also questioned a group of illegal immigrants arrested near Ladybrand on April 22, who alleged that they were contractors working for a businessman named Jessie.

The policeman said he was informed a few days later about a man who was arrested in a Ladybrand informal settlement for loitering.

The man, Simon Nguni, turned out to be an illegal immigrant and apparently also knew about the alleged coup attempt in Lesotho.

Nguni, who is a State witness, is to testify next week.

Earlier, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service's Detective-Inspector Mphelehetse Khatleli testified that weapons and hundreds of empty ammunition cases and equipment were found at different scenes in and around Maseru on April 22 2009.

Khatleli also testified to the discovery of three bullet-ridden bodies of assailants who took part in the attack in Maseru.

Two bodies were found in a minibus taxi which was hijacked by gunmen.

A third body was found near the scene where the taxi was stopped and a gunfight broken out between the attackers and Lesotho police.

Khatleli testified that various automatic firearms such AK-47 assault rifles and Galils (known in South Africa as R-4 and R-5 rifles) with full and empty magazines were found at the State House gate and along the route to where the taxi was stopped.

At one scene in Maseru, a military Land Rover Defender left by the attackers was found with 16 AK-47s, 11 Galil rifles and a couple of other automatic rifles with fully-loaded magazines and bullet-proof vests.

Illegal immigrants

Pieter Nel, defence counsel of the seven men, told the court that the men had denied ever being in Lesotho.

Nel submitted that the men acknowledged that they were illegal immigrants and that they were arrested on such charges, but they had no knowledge of an alleged coup attempt in Lesotho.

The Bloemfontein court must decide whether the seven men are liable to be surrendered to Lesotho and whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution for the offences in Lesotho.

Shortly after the incident in 2009, Lesotho's Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing described the attackers as South African and Mozambican mercenaries who had been contracted to stage a coup.

He also indicated that four attackers were killed in the incident.

Another man, Jessie Ramatakane, 60, previously appeared in the Bethlehem Magistrate's Court in connection with the same matter.

Ramatakane, a businessman from Gauteng and Lesotho, was arrested in the Free State. It is expected that his extradition application will be heard separately in Bethlehem.

The men reportedly face charges in Lesotho of attempted murder, kidnapping, theft and the illegal possession of firearms..

Two men were arrested in Lesotho at the time of the incident. Their trial is expected to start in October.

The Bloemfontein hearing was postponed to Thursday.