Antagonistic relations between villagers and police in Kao continue to deepen with at least one resident feared dead following a reportedly brutal operation by the Botha-Bothe police during the festive holiday.
The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has heard from the residents how they were allegedly hauled and physically assaulted by the men in blue on Thursday, December 27, in a sting operation aimed at apprehending suspected outlaws.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, has told the Centre the operation sought to bring to book some villagers suspected to have physically assaulted a police officer on Christmas “and those engaged in the obstruction of justice”.
Mopeli, however, claimed ignorance of the villagers’ claims that the raging police had made them to roll up and down the nearby stream while they were being kicked and sjamboked in the process that culminated in death of one person.
“What I know is that there was an operation that sought to arrest suspects who physically assaulted a police officer and those engaged the obstruction of justice. I am not aware of details of the alleged assaults that were made against the villagers during the operation,” Mopeli said.
The recent clash between Kao villagers and the Botha-Bothe police reoccur 11 months after one person was left dead and two others critically injured on February 8, 2018 after violent clashes broke out between the police and villagers who were protesting against the Storm Mountain Diamond mine in the area.
Meanwhile, the Centre was told how, on December 27, two mini-buses and two 4×4 trucks filled with armed police officers had arrived at the adjacent villages of Sheshile and Lihloahloeng in Kao and then hauled majority of the villages’ men to the nearby stream.
One of the men narrated how they were assembled near the river, away from the village, and made to roll while they were being beaten by the police at the same time.
This, the Centre heard, happened two days after there was a Christmas drama in which a police officer suffered beating by some villagers at a public bar in Lihloahloeng. A concubine had been the bone of contention, according to the villagers.
Now, in the wee hours of Thursday December 27 the villagers said details of the alleged police brutality about 50 village men suffered in the hands of men in blue, lasting for almost the entire morning and resulting in death of one of the men.
“They had tied him with the rope. Put his head against a nearby stone and used another stone to cut off his dreadlocks. They were even drowning him at the nearby stream”, said a witness who feared his name being published.
A deputy chairperson in a liaison committee that coordinates the community issues with the mine, ’Manalana Molefi, substantiated what the villagers said, adding “while I appreciate that police have a right to investigate and call to questioning anyone who they think may assist them, their conduct as demonstrated on Thursday is worrying for someone who claim to be ‘A Helper, A Friend’.
But the LMPS’ Mopeli told the Centre he got a report that was contrary to the villagers’ claims.
“The report I got was that on December 25 (Christmas) at night, a police officer went to a café where upon entering the shop, heard people whispering why he was there but he ignored them.
“When he got out of the café, he saw some men dragging a woman and the woman was screaming. As a police officer he tried to intervene but now they turned their attention on him and severely assaulted him. The officer was admitted at ’Mamohau Hospital,” he said.
Mopeli added “following this incident the police arrested one man who was part of those who assaulted an officer. It is following this arrest that the villagers attacked a police station based at the Lihloahloeng village demanding that police release arrested villager”.
He said the villagers had even threatened to burn down the police station if their demands were not met.
“Police stationed at this satellite post tried to stop them until the villagers managed to go through to the suspect in custody and got him out of the police station. Upon observing that their numbers were low, police submitted and let them to leave with the suspect.
About events that unfolded on Thursday December 27, Mopeli simply said the police conducted an operation that sought to arrest all responsible for assault of a police officer and obstruction of justice”.
He denied any knowledge of police going on rampage physically assaulting the villagers at Kao.
“I do not have any report to the effect that people were physically assaulted…” he said.