Lesotho’s prime minister said the army attempted to carry out a coup against him, while the southern African kingdom’s military said it disarmed police officers who threatened to destabilize the country.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane removed the Commander of Lesotho Defence Force Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli because he wasn’t cooperating with the government, Thabo Thakalekoala, a spokesman for Thabane, said today in a statement read on Maseru-based MoAfrika Radio. Kamoli, who under the prime minister’s directive was replaced by Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, remains in charge of the forces, army spokesman Major Ntlele Ntoi said today on MoAfrika Radio.
“I have been removed from control, not by the people but by the armed forces, and that is illegal,” Thabane told the British Broadcasting Corp. today. Thabane said he fled to South Africa this morning and plans to stay there until he’s assured his life is no longer in danger.
Lesotho has been run by a three-party coalition government since elections two years ago. In June, Thabane suspended parliament through February, with approval from King Letsie III. The other coalition partners said they didn’t sanction such a move. South African President Jacob Zuma traveled to Lesotho last month to ease the friction after his government reported “unusual” troop movements there.
The military, whose actions “bear the hallmark” of a coup, must return to its barracks and the matter should be resolved through a political discussion, South African government spokesman Clayson Monyela said today at a press conference broadcast on television. South Africa will not tolerate any unconstitutional change of power and the country isn’t sending troops to intervene, said Monyela.
Army vehicles began surrounding police stations, including the central one in the capital, Maseru, from this morning, according to a Bloomberg reporter on the scene. Four police officers were injured in the military action, said Ntoi.
Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, said last week he planned to organize peaceful demonstrations on Sept. 1 to appeal for Thabane to re-open parliament. Metsing pledged in June to join a coalition with the opposition Democratic Congress party.
The former British protectorate, which won its independence in 1966, returned to civilian rule in 1993 after South Africa’s apartheid government backed an army takeover in 1986. In 1998, South Africa and Botswana military forces, operating under the aegis of the regional South African Development Community, intervened to quell an army mutiny and violent protests in the kingdom.
Lesotho, a landlocked mountainous area entirely surrounded by South Africa with a population of 2.2 million, is one of the world’s poorest nations, according to the World Bank.
Instability could slow an economy forecast by the International Monetary Fund to expand 5.6 percent this year.
Lesotho imports 90 percent of its goods from South Africa, mostly consisting of inputs for its key agricultural industry, and sells water to it from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. It is one of the world’s biggest producers of mohair, goat hair used in luxury goods such as suits by Ermenegildo Zegna.