(The following piece was published Sept. 19 by AFP/Agence France-Presse.)
Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) – Police and the military exchanged gunfire in Lesotho’s capital Maseru in the early hours of Friday, as Africa’s tiny mountain kingdom continued to suffer the fall-out from last month’s coup attempt by a renegade army commander.
Police suspicions were raised early on Friday when a group of soldiers drove past the home of police commander Khothatso Tsooana, who has previously survived a grenade-attack on his home.
“If they were planning something, I’m not sure… Soldiers came close, and the police on guard followed them,” Maseru Police District Commissioner Mofokeng Kolo told AFP.
“I don’t know yet who fired first,” he said, adding that there were no injuries.
Lesotho, which is surrounded by South Africa, was rocked by an attempted coup on August 30 that has left relations between police and armed forces on a knife edge.
The attempted seizure of power was blamed on “renegade” Lesotho Defence Force commander Tlali Kamoli, who has refused to step down from the military and been blamed for a series of attacks on police and political rivals.
Prime Minister Tom Thabane shut down parliament and fled to South Africa following the violence. There were several attacks on police stations.
The police are seen as loyal to Thabane while the military are considered allied to his political opponents.
Kamoli, who is reportedly surrounded by a group of armed loyalists, faces accusations of mutiny and treason, but remains at large.
Tensions heightened on Thursday with the funeral of Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko, a police officer killed on August 30 during an army raid on a police armoury.
Some 2,000 police attended the service, as well as Kamoli’s replacement Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, who had also fled in August after an assassination attempt.
“There must be a solution without more deaths,” said Mahao, flanked by heavily armed South African police.
The Southern African Development Community has called for early elections and provided increased police protection for Thabane and his allies.
The number of South African police in Lesotho and their rules of engagement have not been revealed. Kolo said they were not involved in Friday’s shoot-out.
Despite regional pressure to resolve the crisis, little progress has been made, with Thabane saying he cannot reopen parliament until Kamoli is brought under control.