By Michael J. Jordan
Maseru, Lesotho (AFP) – Rival Lesotho leaders vowed to resolve an 11-day crisis that has spurred calls for regional military intervention in the tiny African nation, after South Africa brokered talks.
The sparring factions agreed to hold further negotiations and present a concrete date for reopening Lesotho’s parliament to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Friday.
“We had very frank and good kind of discussions,” said Zuma Tuesday after the three-hour meeting, aimed at keeping a week-old peace deal alive.
“We’re just about to get there,” said Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who suspended parliament in June and has struggled to preserve his coalition government — a rarity in African politics.
But the parties remained silent on how to tackle the “renegade” Lesotho military commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who is accused of triggering the crisis on August 30, one day after he was fired by Thabane.
Kamoli allegedly attempted an early morning coup, including the botched abduction of Thabane and an assault on several police stations. Thabane fled to South Africa in the aftermath.
The general has refused to step down and last week led a circle of army loyalists in looting an armoury. Reports suggest he has hunkered down in military barracks outside the capital.
Zuma has refused Thabane’s request to deploy troops from the 15-member Southern African Development Community.
“President Zuma is here to remind everyone of their political commitments from last week,” South African government spokesman Clayson Monyela. “Let’s give diplomacy a chance.”
Any thought of military action comes with the baggage of 1998, when SADC troops led by South Africa marched into downtown Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, ostensibly to tame post-election violence.
That led to more than 60 deaths and vast property destruction.
Thesele Maseribane, a junior leader in Lesotho’s coalition government, said he was cautiously optimistic after Tuesday’s meeting.
“I can now see a light, that this can be done without bloodshed,” he said. “Kamoli must calm down, come to his senses – and we’ll listen to him too.”
A statement from the party of former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili, a Kamoli ally, ratcheted up tension, warning of “atrocities and bloodbath” should the general be arrested.
“General Kamoli is quite literally and without exaggeration, the last thread by which Lesotho’s democracy is hanging,” read the statement. “Mark our words.”
Even if the talks lead to a concrete date for re-opening parliament, Kamoli remains a wild card.
“We can’t talk about moving forward politically when we have this prevailing security situation,” Home Minister Joang Molapo told AFP.
“We hope (Zuma) will help us return our military command to civilian control. Until then, we can’t take the option of military intervention off the table.”