South Africa will convene regional leaders Monday after they failed to resolve a Lesotho crisis sparked two weeks ago by an aborted coup.
By Michael J. Jordan
MASERU (AFP) – Lesotho’s deadlocked political parties failed to meet a Friday deadline for a fresh peace deal, prompting South Africa to call an emergency meeting of regional leaders.
After promising President Jacob Zuma they would decide by Friday when to re-open Lesotho’s Parliament, rival leaders failed to resolve a crisis sparked two weeks ago by an aborted coup. Reopening the legislature – which was shuttered in June – is seen as a key step toward restoring normality in the tiny mountainous state.
On Aug. 30, an attempted coup by renegade general Tlali Kamoli saw the military assault several police stations prompting the prime minister to flee the country. One Lesotho police officer was killed, and nine others injured in the unrest.
Prime Minister Tom Thabane has since returned, protected by South African guards, but a Pretoria-brokered peace deal quickly disintegrated. On Friday rival party leaders failed to patch up their difference, instead calling for the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) to step in.
“How can you open your own Parliament when you still have foreign troops here, protecting you?” asked Thesele Maseribane, one of those who fled and is now under foreign guard. “Everyone’s interested in Parliament, but what about what recently happened here? This is not a movie. This is reality. This was an attempted coup.”
Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party has been blamed along with Kamoli for the putsch. Kamoli has refused a prime ministerial order to resign and has apparently raided government armouries in preparation for a showdown.
His allies have warned of a “bloodbath” if he is forcibly removed.
The SADC has so far been willing to play mediator, but rebuffed calls by some Lesotho leaders for military intervention, pressing instead for a political resolution. Zuma visited Lesotho this week to try to end the stand-off, but his Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was to travel to the country again Friday.
An SADC troika will meet next week to discuss the crisis. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the bloc – said a full 15-member summit will be held on Wednesday in Pretoria. The leaders are sure to face more calls for military intervention, although locals say they are “praying for peace”. Kamoli has meanwhile been spotted in the capital Maseru, in what his foes said was a deliberate provocation.
“We don’t want to escalate the situation,” said Minister of Home Affairs Joang Molapo. “He’s being provocative and wants us to go after him.” There are persistent rumours the general may be offered amnesty.
Many in Lesotho are traumatised by the events of 1998, when post-election violence prompted South African troops to intervene with SADC approval. That unleashed even more mayhem, as nearly 60 locals and eight South African troops were killed, while much of Maseru was destroyed.
If SADC does intervene, it’s unclear what the street reaction would be. The Democratic Congress (DC) statements this week – which the Lesotho Times described as “chilling” – fueled anxiety of clashes between rival political supporters.
Yet on Friday, one DC official sought to downplay extreme imagery of bloodshed.
“If you say you are going to fight, you may fight physically or with words,” said party Executive Secretary Tsie Sekoere. “DC is not ready to fight anyone now. We are a peaceful people, I assure you. But if we don’t like how things are going, we won’t keep quiet. We’re going to make noise – as any opposition party should.”