Prime Minister of Lesotho Flees Country, Asks for Peacekeepers After Attempted “Coup”

Thomas Thabane says he will return to Lesotho

Thomas Thabane says he will return to Lesotho

Lesotho’s prime minister has asked southern African states to send peacekeepers into his mountain kingdom to restore order after an apparent coup over the weekend, his aide said on Monday.

Thomas Thabane fled Lesotho for South Africa early on Saturday, hours before the army surrounded his residence and overran police stations in the capital Maseru, in what the prime minister called a coup by the military.

Lesotho’s army denied seeking to oust Thabane, saying it moved against police suspected of planning to arm a political faction in the country encircled by South Africa. One policeman was shot dead and four others wounded.

The unrest stems from a power struggle between Thabane, who is supported by the police, and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who has the loyalty of the army, diplomats said.

Tension had risen since Thabane, who has accused Metsing of orchestrating the coup, suspended parliament in June amid feuding in the two-year-old governing coalition.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) defence and security troika, which includes foreign ministers from South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, met Thabane and Metsing through the night to try to find a peaceful settlement to the crisis.

Thabane asked SADC, a cooperative group of 15 southern African states, for military support and was due to meet South African President Jacob Zuma for further mediation, said officials.

“On top of the table was a need for intervention based on the situation. We called on the SADC peace force to intervene,” said Thabane’s aide Samonyane Ntsekele.


“The Prime Minister is meeting President Zuma to discuss recommendations that the troika would have made. We are not sure what is being recommended,” Ntsekele added.

Nelson Kgwete, a spokesman for South Africa’s Department for International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), confirmed that Zuma was due to meet Thabane.

In Maseru, the atmosphere was quiet but tense on Monday after the police commissioner said soldiers had carried out further raids on police installations and even officers’ homes, taking away weapons and uniforms.

Commissioner Khothatso Ts’ooana told Public Choice FM radio station that this meant police would not be able to carry out their normal duties. Police stations were deserted and some officers had fled over the border into South Africa.

Thabane told Reuters on Saturday he had fired the army commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, and appointed Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao to replace him. But on Sunday Kamoli said he was still in charge of the military.

Lesotho, a mountainous state of two million people, has suffered a several coups since independence from Britain in 1966. At least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting in 1998, when Pretoria sent in troops.

Besides textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, Lesotho’s other big earner is hydropower and water, both of which it supplies to neighbor South Africa.

Lesotho’s massive mountain ranges that have made it a favorite of trivia fans as “the world’s highest country” – its lowest point is 1,380 meters (4,528 feet) above sea level.

(Additional reporting by Peroshni GovenderPascal Fletcher and Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg; Writing by Joe Brock)