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Lesotho promises crackdown on coup-plotter soldiers

01 March 2015 - 14:53 By GRAEME HOSKEN

Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane has vowed to crack down on dissident soldiers who tried to overthrow him in an attempted coup last year. The promise was made after he cast his vote yesterday in the early elections, brokered by South Africa.

Thabane's insistence that the military be held to account heightens the tension already gripping the country after the prime minister fled to South Africa last year.

Two weeks ago violence flared up again when two of Thabane's bodyguards, who tipped him off about the raid on his residence, were shot.

Voting in Maseru yesterday, he said that he was "sick and tired of the nonsense" in his country.

"The people must vote. They must vote to show that they, too, are tired of what is happening.

"Those soldiers who have deliberately tried to destabilise Lesotho will not get away with their criminal actions. They will be brought before court and will be punished," he said.

Thabane issued assurances that he would accept defeat if he lost the election: "If the people speak you listen."

He fled to South Africa in September shortly before soldiers loyal to former army chief Tlali Kamoli stormed his residence and shut down public-broadcasting communication in the small country.

Kamoli is said to be loyal to Thabane's deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, who leads the Lesotho Congress for Democracy.

In June, Thabane ordered Metsing to be investigated for corruption, which resulted in a vote of no confidence against him.

This also resulted in the cabinet being dissolved.

But Thabane's threats to bring soldiers to justice upped the tension yesterday, and analysts expressed concern about how the Lesotho Defence Force - whose troops are confined to barracks for the duration of the election - would respond.

There are 400 SADC police in the country protecting VIPs, polling stations and results centres.

SANDF and other SADC military personnel are protecting the Katse Dam, which is a vital supplier of water for industry in Gauteng.

Voters yesterday expressed reservations about the election outcome.

"We are scared. Not for today, but for afterwards. The army is not here today, but they will be on the streets tomorrow. Then what? When SADC goes, how will they protect us?" asked Tumane Thabane.

Molefi Masooa said that the army was known to side with Metsing.

"It's scary. Metsing said he was happy with the voting process, but what if he's not happy with the results? That's our fear."