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D-Day for Lesotho


. . as SADC leaders meet on political and security crises

Bongiwe Zihlangu

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma has invited regional leaders to an urgent meeting in Pretoria tomorrow to discuss Lesotho’s political and security crises.

The make-or-break meeting comes a week after the South African president visited Maseru, in his capacity as Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ on Politics, Security and Defence chairperson, to mediate in the dispute between the coalition government partners over the re-opening of Parliament.

The National Executive Committees of the three ruling parties — the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) — had been expected to discuss the issue last Wednesday and Thursday and then announce Parliament’s re-opening date on Friday, as recommended by Mr Zuma.

However, instead of following Mr Zuma’s roadmap, Prime Minister (PM) Thomas Thabane’s ABC and the BNP led by Senior Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane, pulled out of the talks on Thursday and sought SADC’s intervention citing security concerns, the Sunday Express has learnt.

In their “classified” letter to the regional bloc, the two coalition leaders noted they would “not set a sure date” for the re-opening of Parliament which Dr Thabane suspended for nine months on 10 June this year to avoid a vote-of-no-confidence in his leadership, until the country’s security issues had been fully addressed.

It was because of the letter that Mr Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa — who was supposed to come to Maseru on Friday to oversee the announcement of the date of the re-opening of the August House — cancelled the trip, and SADC called for tomorrow’s meeting in which Dr Thabane will also be in attendance, the Sunday Express has established.

Chief ‘Maseribane confirmed the ABC and BNP had written such a letter, adding the government had no intention of opening Parliament “until certain conditions regarding security are met”.

“Issues concerning security are not negotiable at all. We need to thrash them out thoroughly before we can even consider opening Parliament,” Chief ‘Maseribane told the Sunday Express.

“There was a coup in Lesotho if the PM had to flee from his military and country (on 29 August 2014 and seek refuge in South Africa). Lesotho’s security foundations were badly shaken. Do you think by fleeing the country we were staging a blockbuster movie? No, not in the least!”

According to the BNP leader, the country cannot be called stable without the issue of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) command, and army raid of three key police stations in Maseru in search of “illegal weapons” on the morning of 30 August 2014, which the premier later said was a coup attempt, being thoroughly investigated and resolved.

Both Dr Thabane and Chief ‘Maseribane have accused LCD leader, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, of engineering the failed coup, which came  a day after the premier had fired LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and replaced him with Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao.

However, Lt Gen Kamoli has maintained he remains the LDF commander, and indeed, still controls the military and has been seen around the Maseru Central Business District despite allegations he had emptied the LDF armoury and set-up base in Setibing, together with a group of elite soldiers, for his “last stand”.

“Because of these issues, we have written to SADC to inform the bloc that the opening of Parliament is virtually impossible for as long as the security situation remains this way,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

“A good question that one should ask every time this issue comes up should be: who gave Kamoli the permission to raid police stations and the PM?” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

Chief ‘Maseribane, who is also the minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, added in their letter, the parties further asked SADC why they should open Parliament while their security was being provided by the South African Police Service (SAPS).

“What we would also want to know is should we open parliament with security from SAPS?”

On the question of Lt Gen Kamoli, Chief ‘Maseribane said they made it clear to SADC that they would not open Parliament “only for the crown to be passed by that rebel”.

“Should His Majesty the King, have Parliament in the military command of that rebel? Should the crown be passed by that rebel? He’s no longer the LDF commander and SADC should understand that we don’t know where the weapons which were seized from the police during last month’s raid are, or the number of weapons in the state armoury. Nobody is saying where these weapons are.”

He added: “SADC should understand that we need Kamoli to hand-over the LDF command to the new commander appointed by the PM, give us reports on the whereabouts of the military equipment, take his package and go home.”

Asked if there had been further efforts to engage Lt Gen Kamoli and convince him to step down, Chief ‘Maseribane said “because of his tight security, we can’t get to him. He is guarded by military commandos, so access to him is difficult”.

Meanwhile, Chief ‘Maseribane also revealed the two parties had requested for at least three mediators to preside over the country’s peace talks, namely the SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax, Mr Ramaphosa and a Commonwealth representative.

On what the ABC and BNP expected from tomorrow’s meeting, which will be preceded by a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers, Chief ‘Maseribane said: “We expect a positive outcome that this security issue will be thrashed out and given the justice it deserves.”

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