By Michael J. Jordan
MASERU, Lesotho – A top Lesotho official has distanced his government from a Minister’s assertion last week that four Lesotho soldiers were arrested in neighboring South Africa, while on their way to “finish off” two of Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s bodyguards – as they lay recovering from a recent shootout.
“At my disposal, I don’t have any concrete information to confirm or not to confirm these arrests,” Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka said Wednesday.
Lesotho is two-plus weeks from Feb. 28 elections intended to restore peace and security, after a coup attempt convulsed the tiny African kingdom last August.
The Feb. 1 shootout in broad daylight between Lesotho soldiers and Thabane’s two bodyguards sparked fears in a country plagued by bouts of election-related violence during its half-century of independence. It also spurred greater criticism of mediation efforts by the regional peace-and-security bloc, the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo then ratcheted tensions on Feb. 5, when he announced that four heavily armed Lesotho Defence Force soldiers were arrested on their way to the provincial South African hospital where the two bodyguards – soldiers themselves, who had reportedly tipped off Thabane about the Aug. 30 putsch and helped him escape into South Africa – lay wounded.
“We believe the four arrested intended to finish off the soldiers who they didn’t kill” earlier, Molapo told AFP. Molapo, though, declined to provide their names or location, for the claim to be verified. An LDF spokesman denied the arrests, saying all soldiers were accounted for in Lesotho.
Two days later, South African Police Service National Spokesman Solomon Makgale told AFP: “The SAPS has not arrested Lesotho soldiers.”
From the Lesotho government, this was the latest sensational claim of security threats, without providing evidence – in a political atmosphere filled with unsubstantiated accusations between the government and its opponents.