Lesotho PM returns home under tight security after “coup”


Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane returned to State House in the capital Maseru on Wednesday, four days after he fled to South Africa following an apparent bid by the military to oust him, an aide said.

Thabane met with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and security chiefs from neighbouring countries this week in an effort to end a political crisis in the mountain kingdom.

South African police had escorted him home afterwards, said Samonyane Ntsekele, an advisor to Thabane.
“He’s in State House. He’s the one in charge. South African police are with him and he is well secured,” Ntsekele told Reuters. “He saw the king today and we hope they will work together as a team. I don’t know what has been agreed.”

Lesotho, a mountainous state of two million people encircled entirely by South Africa, has a parliamentary democratic government and the king serves largely a ceremonial role.

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

Lesotho’s army said it had not tried to oust Thabane but rather moved against police suspected of planning to arm a political faction. 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 has risen since Thabane, who has accused Metsing of orchestrating the coup, suspended parliament in June amid feuding in the 2-year-old governing coalition.

Thabane told Reuters at the weekend he had fired the army commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, and appointed Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao to replace him. But Kamoli has not said publicly that he will stand down.

Lesotho 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 neighbour South Africa.