31 August 2014

Lesotho: 'Coup' Confusion After Troops Raid Lesotho Police Stations

Photo: ComSec
Basotho voters at the 2012 polls which brought the current government to power.

Cape Town — Members of Lesotho's fractious coalition government were at odds over who was in control of the country on Sunday after troops mounted raids on police headquarters and police stations in the capital, Maseru, on Saturday.

Prime Minister Tom Thabane, who fled the country to neighbouring South Africa, told Lesotho's Sunday Express newspaper that he had fired the army chief, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli - perceived as loyal to Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing - and that Kamoli had led "a mutiny to try and overthrow a legitimate government."

He insisted that he was in control of the government.

Thabane said he had asked South Africa to intervene militarily: "I have asked President [Jacob] Zuma for troops to help us with the situation in the country. President Zuma is now seized with the matter as chairman of the SADC [Southern African Development Community] Organ on Defence and Security…"

However, Kamoli told the same newspaper that "I am still the commander of the LDF (Lesotho Defence Force) and as far as I am concerned, I am still in office."

And a member of Metsing's party told Reuters that the deputy prime minister was in charge. "Constitutionally, in the absence of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister takes the reins," Selibe Mochoboroane, Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, was reported as saying. He also told the Sunday Express that Kamoli remained army chief.

Earlier, a military spokesman told news agencies that the Basotho soldiers had returned to their barracks after their action against police on Saturday.

The weekend's events appear to have been precipitated by a march planned for Monday by Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democracy, demanding that Thabane rescind a decision in June to suspend Parliament for nine months.

Minority parties in the coalition government complain that Thabane has failed to consult them adequately since the government was formed in 2012, and that he adjourned Parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote.

The army justified its action on Saturday on the grounds that they had to disarm police - seen as loyal to Thabane - ahead of the march.

The LDF said in a statement that they had information that the police were planning to provide a youth organisation - called the Under The Tree Army - which is affiliated to Thabane's All Basotho Convention with weapons to attack the march.

In the only signs of a possible compromise on Sunday, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy said it had called off the march, while Thabane signalled a willingness to reconvene Parliament.

An LCD spokesman said the march had been cancelled on the advice of the army.

And in the course of an interview broadcast by the South African Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday, Thabane said that "we are bound to reopen Parliament."

The Express reported that on Saturday, "many nervous Basotho, including ministers and senior government officials, could be seen streaming into South Africa while supermarket-shelves emptied quickly as citizens engaged in panic-buying, uncertain of the future in light of the power vacuum created by the premier's retreat [into South Africa]."

The paper also said a Lesotho Mounted Police Service sub-inspector was shot dead and three constables were seriously injured during the clashes with the army.

The South African government on Saturday said that "by all accounts the activities of the Lesotho Defence Force thus far bear the hallmarks of a coup d'état" and warned that "unconstitutional change of government shall not be tolerated." But it urged dialogue and said there were no immediate plans for a military intervention.

* Later on Sunday, Metsing told news agencies he was in South Africa for talks with President Zuma.

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