Lesotho on brink again

06 September 2017 - 06:28 By AFP
Lesotho Defence Force. File photo
Lesotho Defence Force. File photo
Image: Facebook/Lesotho Times

Lesotho's army commander was shot dead by rival officers at a barracks yesterday - the assassination likely to revive instability in the mountainous kingdom.

"[Khoantle Motsomotso] has been declared dead," a military official, who declined to be named, said, adding that two senior officers behind the attack were also killed in the shootout.

The military official said the two senior officers had been denied access to Motsomotso's office by army guards.

"They attempted to enter forcibly and there was a shootout between the two, their companion, who has fled, and the commander's bodyguards," he said.

A coalition government took office in Lesotho in June under Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who vowed to bring peace to the country that has been rocked by a series of political upheavals.

Thabane, 78, was premier after the 2012 elections but was forced to flee to South Africa - which entirely surrounds landlocked Lesotho - following an attempted military coup two years later.

In August 2014, soldiers led by sacked army chief General Tlali Kamoli seized control of police headquarters after Thabane suspended parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote.

Thabane's All Basotho Convention won snap elections on June 3 but failed to get an outright majority, leading it to negotiate joint rule with three other parties.

Lesotho has a long history of political instability, having also suffered coups in 1986 and 1991.

Lesotho is important to South Africa because it provides much of the water supply to Johannesburg.

The regional Southern African Development Community has worked to promote stability in the country.

"I am hoping that we can have a peaceful Lesotho," President Jacob Zuma told reporters speaking from the Brics summit in China.

"From the SADC point of view, we thought that the Lesotho problem had ended and this is what we were promised by the new prime minister.

"Actions that people take there must not lead to another situation."

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Letsie III, who has no formal power.

It was a British protectorate known as Basutoland before independence in 1966.

The June election was the third since 2012. Years of political friction have hampered attempts to fight dire poverty and a high incidence of HIV.