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Three police officers arrested in Wepener

THREE Lesotho police officers and two ordinary Basotho were arrested in Wepener, South Africa, while following up leads on stolen cattle. They were arrested on Thursday night but were released the following day after intervention by the government of Lesotho.

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They were travelling in a Honda Fit and were pulled over by the South African police after they were spotted with their blue operational lights on close to the border town of Wepener.

The officers are Bokang Phekoli, 36, who was found in possession of a 9mm pistol, ammunition and a magazine, Mashiya Senaba, 52, who was in possession of a 9mm pistol, ammunition and magazine, and Pakiso Ntsoele, 40.

They are all based at the Mohale’s Hoek police station.

The officers were arrested together with two Basotho, ’Marelebeletse Tlai-Tlai and Khosane Tsotsi.

The South African police accused them of violating the immigration law, unlawful possession of firearms, and aiding people to enter the republic illegally.

Their explanation that they were following stolen cattle fell on deaf ears.

Lesotho’s police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said they were arrested because of miscommunication between the two police services.

“It is not true that the officers were smuggling people into South Africa, they were on an operation,” S/Supt Halahala said.

He said the Mohale’s Hoek police had received a report from the two civilians that their livestock had just been stolen in Ketane, a remote area in the district.

They also heard that the cattle had been driven across the border into South Africa.

“That prompted the police to embark on an operation to Wepener where they were unfortunately mistaken to be criminals and were arrested,” he said.

“It was alleged that the stolen cattle had been kept there.”

He said the Lesotho police had also received intelligence that the stolen cattle’s identity marks were being destroyed and replaced so that they could be transported to Vanderbijlpark where they were to be auctioned.

“The three officers went to Wepener with the owners of the cattle and they stopped at a roadblock after crossing the border,” S/Supt Halahala said.

He added that before they departed to Wepener the police management had notified their South African counterparts about the operation.

“But at the roadblock, they were all searched and they did not have passports. They were then arrested.”

S/Supt Halahala added that the police conducting the roadblock were not Wepener police but Eastern Cape police who had just come down to join a big operation.

“They did not know about the preparations made and they arrested those people there.”

He said immediately the Mohale’s Hoek police management and the SAPS coordinators in Lesotho rushed to Wepener to clarify that indeed such officers were on duty that day.

“They talked to the Wepener court prosecutor to release them.”

Nkheli Liphoto

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