SA cops restore calm to Lesotho capital

04 September 2014 - 02:09 By Stephan Hofstatter

Lesotho police, bolstered by the presence of South African police units, returned to their headquarters in the capital Maseru yesterday for the first time since Saturday's attempted coup.

The SAPS units included heavily armed members of the Special Task Force in combat fatigues. Convoys of SAPS vehicles could be seen cruising the streets of Maseru yesterday after escorting prime minister Tom Thabane safely back into the country.

SAPS units were deployed to guard Thabane and key officials at their residences, including newly appointed Lesotho Defence Force chief Lieutanant General Maaparankoe Mahao.

Mahao survived an assassination attempt soon after Thabane appointed him to replace Tlali Kamoli, whom he sacked on Friday.

Thabane fled Lesotho hours before military units surrounded several police stations with armoured vehicles, killing one policeman at the national headquarters in Maseru and wounding nine others.

Police said the army units opened fire on them without warning and seized at least 100 weapons, including AK47s, M16s rifles, handguns “five cases of Savanna, two cases of Coke and four cellphones”.

On Monday, the military displayed the weapons they’d seized to journalists, claiming the police had planned to use them to arm demonstrators protesting against Thabane’s decision to suspend parliament in June.

Lesotho police have denied this charge, insisting they were attacked because their anti-corruption unit has targeted several senior politicians and army officials.

The attempted coup is widely regarded as a power struggle between Thabane, said to have the loyalty of the police, and Lesotho’s deputy prime minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, who is understood to control the military, which appears to remain loyal to Kamoli.

Police said at every police station the military stormed, soldiers demanded the dockets of criminal cases against senior army officers and Metsing, who is under investigation for corruption.

Lesotho police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana said his officers would be back at work today [THURSDAY]. However, by last night Maseru’s main charge office remained deserted and the national headquarters in Maseru was guarded by members of the elite Special Operations Unit in military style uniforms.  Other police officials wore plain clothes.

With the arrival of the South African security forces in the capital yesterday the Lesotho military appeared to have remained confined to their barracks.

Although Maseru residents went about their business as usual during daylight hours yesterday the streets were largely deserted after dark, with many fearing a return to violence.

“We are still worried,” said a senior police official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “When you recall what happened in ’98, you can see these people are capable of anything.”

In 1998 the SA Defence Force faced unexpected resistance from the LDF it invaded Lesotho to avert a coup. Nine SANDF soldiers were killed.

“We are ready for action,” said a Special Operations Unit member. “They are rebels and we will deal with them.”