2nd September, 2014
Lesotho’s prime minister is set to return home Tuesday after three days in exile in neighbouring South Africa, as regional mediators seek to reinstall him to power after an apparent coup.
“We are going home now, most probably we will be in Lesotho tomorrow,” Samonyane Ntsekele, an advisor to Prime Minister Tom Thabane, said from Pretoria, where southern African states brokered a deal to end the crisis.
Thabane had fled across the border to South Africa before dawn on Saturday, as troops attacked key police installations and surrounded his official residence.
The military and a rival political party — the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) — have been accused of trying to oust the 75-year old, a charge they vehemently deny.
The US State Department on Monday ordered family members of US diplomatic personnel in Lesotho to leave the country “due to concerns over a possible deterioration of the security situation”.
It warned those Americans who choose to remain that the US embassy and international flights out could be suspended without warning and land borders closed.
South African President Jacob Zuma and representatives from governments in the regional bloc SADC had brought together leaders from Lesotho’s three ruling coalition parties to resolve their differences.
According to a joint statement Thabane will now move to end the suspension of parliament, a key demand of rival parties.
The Southern African Development Community will also send an observer team to the mountainous African kingdom to monitor political, defence and security developments.
There was no mention of an SADC peacekeeping force, as requested by Thabane.
Thabane will return to a country which for three days appeared to be without a government.
The police force is in disarray after being forcibly disarmed by troops and the military is seemingly beyond political control, leaving ordinary people fearing for the future.
“We don’t know what is happening. They are just fighting for their own things they don’t want to say anything to us,” said Lineo Mattadi, a 28-year-old upholstery factory worker.
In an attempt to fill that vacuum Motloheloa Phooko, a minister from the LCD, raised eyebrows on Monday by saying he was acting prime minister thanks to “cabinet protocol”.
The confusion continued on Monday evening when gunshots were heard in Maseru by AFP reporters though it was initially unclear if this was related to the ongoing tensions.
The political situation may be fraught, but Thabane’s biggest task may be to end doubts about who controls the army.
Intelligence sources have claimed that Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, commander of the Lesotho Defence Forces, orchestrated the coup when ordered by Thabane to relinquish his command.
Kamoli was to be replaced by Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, who fled the country on Saturday after a pre-dawn assassination attempt.
His home was sprayed with bullets, forcing his wife and three young sons to hide, terrified for their lives during the 30 minute ordeal.
On Monday, military spokesman major Ntlele Ntoi insisted there was no doubt who was in command of the armed forces.
“Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli is the one who is in charge,” he said categorically, stating that Mahao faces a court martial for conduct unbecoming an officer.
Speaking in Pretoria, Mahao labelled Kamoli a “renegade general”.
“On the ground we have a situation that we have a renegade general who is refusing to step down,” he said.
When asked who is in charge of the military, acting prime minister Phooko said “that is a difficult question.”
Mahao claimed that Kamoli was reluctant to relinquish his post for fear of prosecution.
“There are a number of criminal acts conducted by sections under his command. He is afraid that when he is removed from office, the forces of justice will come into effect,” he told AFP.
Mahao claimed that soldiers had also sought to seize police files relating to the deputy prime minister, the LCD’s Mothetjoa Metsing.
“The deputy prime minister is implicated in corruption charges. He is under investigation for that.”