JOHANNESBURG – Lesotho’s political leaders were summoned by South African President Jacob Zuma for emergency talks after the military in the landlocked kingdom carried out an attempted coup.
Deputy President Mothetjoa Metsing left Lesotho Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and Zuma, Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa told reporters in the capital, Maseru. Zuma is head of the Southern African Development Community’s defense, politics and security council.
Thabane fled Lesotho on Saturday, saying the army tried to overthrow him. The military claimed it disarmed police officers who threatened to destabilize the nation. Lesotho has been run by a three-party coalition government since elections two years ago. In June, Thabane suspended parliament through February, even as the other coalition partners said they didn’t sanction such a move.
Metsing said the army’s seizure of the police headquarters was a misunderstanding between the two institutions and not a coup.
Major Ntlele Ntoi, a public affairs officer for the Lesotho Defence Force, told reporters in Maseru Sunday they had seized an assortment of weapons from the police, including AK-47 rifles. He said information from army intelligence sources indicated the weapons would be used to equip individuals, who would use them to shoot at protesters during planned demonstrations by the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, which is led by Metsing.
Thabane fled Maseru with the help of South Africa’s special forces, the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times reported Sunday, citing Thabo Thakalekoala, the prime minister’s spokesman. The report isn’t true, Clayson Monyela, spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said in a Twitter post.
Zuma traveled to Lesotho in July to ease the friction after his government reported “unusual” troop movements there. South Africa and its ruling party, the African National Congress, have condemned the attempted coup.
Lesotho, which has a population of about 2 million, supplies water to South Africa’s industrial hub and is an enclave within its bigger neighbor. The kingdom earns foreign exchange from tourism and exports of mohair and supplies labor to South African mines.
A former British protectorate, which won its independence in 1966, Lesotho has previously suffered military coups. South Africa’s apartheid government backed an army takeover in 1986, before a countercoup in 1991 enabled elections to be held in 1993. In 1998, South Africa dispatched more than 600 troops to Lesotho as part of a regional effort to quell a mutiny by junior army officers. More than 60 people were killed, including South African soldiers.
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