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Mount Qiloane, symbol of the Basotho. (Photo: mjj)

MASERU, Lesotho – The passport is stamped U.S., but I’m unabashedly a citizen of the world. I’ve got a toehold on four continents, from New York to Hong Kong, from Prague to Lesotho.

As a foreign correspondent, journalism educator, communications consultant, and father of three, I live high in the mountains of southern Africa, in the tiny “Mountain Kingdom” of Lesotho. As the lone Western correspondent here, I’m now covering Lesotho’s unique political crisis for AFP and others.

Yet this is an interlude from the Health Journalism I’ve been teaching in one of the world’s sickliest societies. Meanwhile, from next-door South Africa, I’m co-producing a documentary film – The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story – which explores racial healing and equal opportunity in “The Rainbow Nation,” twenty years later.

At the same time, in Hong Kong, I’m a five-time Visiting Scholar teaching International Journalism, mostly to bright, young mainland Chinese; and in Prague, I’m Senior Trainer of a biannual course in story-telling from around the world. In fact, post-Communist Central Europe flows through my veins; that’s where I launched my own foreign-correspondent career two decades ago.

Thank you for visiting my website – and for reading! … Michael

(The following article was published Nov. 19 by international news agency AFP. For more about the claims of foreign “mercenaries” in Lesotho, please click here.)

AFP

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Lesotho has demanded the expulsion of two senior officers from a SADC police mission, accusing them of sabotaging the security of Prime Minister Tom Thabane and other top officials.

In a confidential letter to the Southern African Development Community and its lead negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, the government expressed “certain reservations” about a South African Lieutenant Colonel and Brigadier.

“Once we request that they be immediately released from their services, it’s effectively saying they are expected to be,” Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka told AFP Wednesday.

“I believe quick action will be taken,” he added.

The southern African bloc deployed more than 100 police to protect Thabane and other government officials following an attempted coup on August 30, which forced the prime minister to briefly flee to neighbouring South Africa.

“The handling of this issue could be a recipe for disaster,” Mphaka said. “This is not meant to harm the integrity of those officers, but to protect the integrity of the SADC observer-mission.”

Mphaka refused to give details of the specific allegations against the two officers, but another senior government official said the two commanders were accused of conspiring with Thabane’s rivals to “sabotage the mission.”

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(The following article was published Nov. 10 by international news agency AFP. For more about Lt. Gen. Kamoli’s alleged peace-deal breaches, please click here.)

AFP

Coalition partner Thesele Maseribane, speaking at the September memorial for the officer killed during the putsch, now accuses rivals of further destabilizing Lesotho. (Photo: mjj)

Coalition leader Thesele Maseribane, speaking at the September memorial for the officer killed during the putsch, now accuses rivals of further destabilizing Lesotho to undermine elections. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - Lesotho police are investigating allegations that foreign “mercenaries” plan to kill Prime Minister Tom Thabane in a bid to further destabilise this crisis-hit nation still reeling from an attempted coup.

Senior police and government officials told AFP on Monday that government offices had been evacuated and the prime minister and King Letsie III cancelled public engagements Sunday amid intelligence suggesting a plot.

Assistant Police Commissioner Sello Mosili said a team of perhaps 14 Nigerian and Ghanaian soldiers-for-hire reportedly entered Lesotho through a rugged, mountainous southeastern border area with South Africa.

It is believed they have a stash of weapons.

“That’s information that we’ve heard from local people in the mountains,” Mosili said adding. “It’s still under investigation.”

Thesele Maseribane, a government minister and the third leader of the ruling tripartite coalition, said his armed South African guards evacuated from his office on Friday, ahead of intelligence that mercenaries were on their way to kill him.

“It’s not about security for me or for the prime minister, but about the security of the nation,” Maseribane told AFP Monday. “Are my people secured? My answer is, no.”

The assertion of mercenaries in this mountain enclave, which is encircled by South Africa, is just the latest chapter since an August 30 putsch that saw Lesotho Defence Force soldiers raid Thabane’s official residence, forcing him to flee into South Africa.

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(The following article was published Nov. 6 by international news agency AFP. To read more about the security accord announced on Oct. 23, please click here.)

AFP

Lesotho's "renegade" Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli, smiling after signing the Oct. 23 peace deal, is now accused of breaching it. (Photo: mjj)

Lesotho’s “renegade” Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli, smiling after signing the Oct. 23 peace deal, is now accused of breaching it. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) — A top Lesotho defence official has urged regional powers to “remove” an influential military commander for flouting a peace deal meant to stabilise the tiny African country two months after an attempted coup.

The defence ministry’s principal secretary accused Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli of harassing rivals and marshalling forces, despite an agreement to relinquish his command.

Echoing a confidential letter to South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Thato Mohasoa told AFP on Thursday that the Southern African Development Community should “remove” Kamoli, who is accused of being behind an August 30 coup attempt.

“SADC should use any means at their disposal — including persuasion,” he said.

Kamoli is accused of ordering a pre-dawn military raid on Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s residence and the national police headquarters.

On Oct. 23, Ramaphosa announced the "three chiefs" would be sent on a "wonderful leave of absence" - presumably, not together: Kamoli, Tsooana, Mahao. PM Thabane, to Ramaphosa's right, again looked like a man defeated. (Photo: mjj)

Ramaphosa, announcing the “wonderful leave of absence” for Kamoli, Tsooana, Mahao. PM Thabane, far left, looked like a man defeated. (Photo: mjj)

Under a deal inked last month Kamoli agreed to hand over control to his deputy commander and exercise no “authority or undue influence” over the army during an indefinite “leave of absence.”

In the letter, first obtained by the Lesotho Times, Kamoli is accused of holding multiple meetings with underlings, stating he was still “substantive commander” of the Lesotho Defence Forces.

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(The following article was published Oct. 23 by international news agency AFP.)

AFP

A surreal scene in Maseru.

A surreal scene on Oct. 23, of alleged co-conspirators and their targets. From left: Maseribane, Metsing, Thabane, Ramaphosa, Kamoli, Tsooana, Mahao. Maseribane accuses Metsing and Kamoli of trying to abduct and kill him and Thabane. Tsooana’s home was reportedly attacked by grenade; Mahao’s by gunfire – killing his dog. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - South Africa’s deputy president brokered a deal to end a destabilising post-coup standoff in Lesotho Thursday, with the head of the police and rival military commanders agreeing to step down.

Southern African mediators led by Cyril Ramaphosa said they had convinced renegade Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who is accused of being behind an August 30 attempted coup, to take a leave of absence, along with two other top security officials.

Kamoli, rival military commander Maaparankoe Mahao and Lesotho police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana will hand over authority to their deputy commanders for an unspecified time.

Kamoli is suspected of leading the early morning raid on Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s residence and the national police headquarters, which killed one police officer and injured nine. He has since refused an order to relinquish command and has armed a small group of loyal fighters, prompting questions about stability in the small landlocked nation.

With Ramaphosa looking on, Kamoli signs his pledge to keep the peace - and head into de facto exile? (Photo: mjj)

With Ramaphosa as witness, Kamoli signs his vow to keep the peace – and head into de facto exile? (Photo: mjj)

“What’s important here is that they have agreed to do all of this, to set aside their own personal interests,” said Ramaphosa, in announcing the agreement. “What has surged forward are the interests of the nation. They’ve been promised nothing but a wonderful leave of absence and wonderful work-visits.”

Ramaphosa had earlier held secret talks with the group, despite Kamoli being investigated by Lesotho police for two crimes linked to the August 30 assault: high treason and murder.

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(The following article was published Oct. 17 by international news agency AFP.)

AFP

Opposition MPs sing inside the Lesotho Parliament, after it re-opened Friday. (Photo: mjj)

Opposition MPs sing inside the Lesotho Parliament, after it re-opened Oct. 17. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - Lesotho’s King Letsie III re-opened parliament Friday amid tight security, the first step in a peace deal aimed at ending a crisis sparked by an attempted military coup.

Opposition parliamentarians celebrated with song and dance on the floor of the legislature, as the chamber sat for the first time in four months.

Prime Minister Tom Thabane had suspended the body in June fearing a vote of no-confidence that could have booted him from power.

The re-opening of parliament is a key first step in a peace deal following an August 30 coup attempt and will lead to early elections in February 2015.

The king, who is constitutionally restricted to a ceremonial role, thanked the international community –- and particularly the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) — for helping to defuse the crisis.

“On behalf of the Basotho nation, I would like to express… our deep-rooted gratitude for expeditiously coming to our assistance at this critical moment in our political journey,” King Letsie told the 120-member chamber, as the SADC mediator, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, looked on.

As the king filed out, followed by Thabane, his feisty opponents, led by former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili, then filled the floor, singing and swaying.

“Democracy begins again,” said one MP, Kotiti Diholo of the Democratic Congress. “There was no longer democracy in this country, but now we can get back to representing our people.”

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(The following article was published Oct. 16 by international news agency AFP.)

AFP

As mediator Ramaphosa outlined his "peace" plan for Lesotho, PM Thabane looked like a man defeated. (Photo: mjj)

When Ramaphosa outlined his “peace” plan on Oct. 2, PM Thabane looked like a man defeated. (Photo: mjj)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Lesotho’s parliament is due to reconvene Friday, the first step of a peace deal aimed at resolving weeks of crisis sparked by an attempted military coup.

With security concerns on-going, the 120-member legislature will reconvene four months after Prime Minister Tom Thabane suspended it to dodge a no-confidence vote that would likely have seen him kicked out of power.

“It’s a milestone,” says Tumisang Mosotho, a senior advisor to Thabane. “We want to hope this is the first step in the right direction, in liberating our country from the danger that has surrounded us these past few months.

On August 30 Thabane fled the tiny kingdom, entirely surrounded by South Africa, hours before the military attacked police installations, in what was seen as part of an orchestrated putsch.

Just hours before he had fired Lesotho Defence Force commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who still refuses to relinquish his command.

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