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The army commander Tlali Kamoli, who mounted a brief coup against Thabane last August, appears to have launched a campaign to get rid of Thabane loyalists.
Mahao – whom Thabane appointed as army commander last August after firing Kamoli – was stopped by three Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) trucks as he left his farm on the outskirts of Maseru on Thursday and shot in front of his two children, according to relatives.
The soldiers told his 13-year-old son that they were taking his father to the hospital but instead took him to their barracks.
Later on Thursday night, Defence Minister Tseliso Mokhosi announced that a soldier had been killed by LDF members after allegedly resisting arrest. He did not even bother to mention Mahao by name.
Mahao’s family said that, according to his son, who was driving with his father, Mahao had surrendered and thrown his hands in the air immediately when one of the three LDF vehicles drove in front of and blocked his way. They fired anyway.
Mahao’s relatives petitioned the High Court early Friday after they had been denied access to Mahao’s body. The first court order issued by the High Court for the body to be released to the family was defied.
The LDF only released his body to a local mortuary after the family went to court for the second time on Friday.
Kamoli refused to appear before the High Court to explain what had happened to Mahao, instead sending a junior official who only told the court he had died in a “secret military operation”.
Mahoa’s killing follows the recent murder of prominent businessman, Thabiso Tsosane, a good friend of Thabane and funder of his All Basotho Convention (ABC).