…as Prime Minister Thomas Thabane flees to South Africa
ANARCHY reigned in Lesotho yesterday after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled into South Africa as the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) staged what the premier has since described as a coup d’état.
On a day of high drama, 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.
Dr Thabane yesterday told the Sunday Express he had appealed to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma for direct military intervention to help stabilise the situation in Lesotho and was awaiting the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s response and decision on the matter.
“I have asked President 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 Organ on Defence and Security…..,” said Dr Thabane in an interview, blaming the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, for “leading a mutiny to try and overthrow a legitimate government”.
Lesotho’s immediate future remained uncertain yesterday after Dr Thabane said he had fired Lt General Kamoli, who however, told the Sunday Express that he remained in charge of the LDF.
Lesotho has been in turmoil amid infighting in the coalition government and after Dr Thabane suspended Parliament on 10 June 2014 to forestall a bid by coalition partner, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) led by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, to push for a no-confidence vote against him and bring back former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress (DC) into power.
However, yesterday’s chaos started when soldiers loyal to Lt General Kamoli stormed the Maseru Central Police Station, Police Headquarters and Ha-Mabote Police Stations in armoured tanks and disarmed police officers, before some allegedly headed for State House looking for Dr Thabane who had already skipped into South Africa.
Apparently, Dr Thabane was due to announce Lt General Kamoli’s dismissal as army commander yesterday and replace him with Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao. It’s that decision by Dr Thabane to fire Lt General Kamoli which seems to have propelled the army commander into action.
Lt General Kamoli’s “coup attempt” started around 3am yesterday when armoured tanks moved into the three police stations, resulting in the disarmament of the police and seizure of arms kept at the police stations.
One policeman was killed and several injured during clashes which erupted during the operation.
LMPS spokesperson, Senior Inspector Lebona Mohloboli confirmed the death, but could not give further details, as he told the Sunday Express that he, and other senior officers, were in hiding following the army’s takeover of the three nerve-centres of police operations.
Lt General Kamoli vowed to remain in his seat as army commander last night, creating room for further chaos.
“As far as I am concerned, I am still the army commander and in full control of all Lesotho Defence Force instruments. You can even come by my office now at Ha Ratjomose Barracks and see for yourself that I am still in office and in full charge,” said Lt General Kamoli in an interview with the Sunday Express.
He refused to talk about the army’s activities and whether or not he had seized power, only preferring to say his only aim in giving the interview was to debunk a radio announcement by Dr Thabane’s spokesman, Thabo Thakalekoala, that he had been sacked as army chief.
But Dr Thabane told the Sunday Express he had decided to fire Lt General Kamoli because of “actions by the army commander that offended the rule of law.”
This was in reference to Lt General Kamoli’s refusal to hand over to the police, eight soldiers who were earlier this year accused of bombing houses belonging to the premier’s partner Liabiloe Ramoholi, and Police Commissioner Tsooana soon after the latter’s appointment. Commissioner Tsooana and Lt General Kamoli don’t see eye to eye.
It is suspected Dr Thabane was the target of the attacks as he was known to frequent his girlfriend’s house.
Dr Thabane yesterday said the commander’s actions in refusing to handover the eight army suspects to the police were unacceptable, and insisted Lt General Kamoli was no longer head of the defence force. Asked about Lt General Kamoli’s insistence that he was still head of the LDF, Dr Thabane said, “I am not going to worry about that,” before terminating the call to take another call from President Zuma.
Dr Thabane earlier in the interview also attributed the “coup” to the rifts in his coalition and his anti-corruption drive that has netted Deputy Prime Minister Metsing and several other government ministers and officials.
“Corruption has become a major problem and I think we need to do everything to weed it out…..It is sad that some in the coalition don’t agree with my tough stance against corruption…..,” he said.