Lesotho’s exiled prime minister, Tom Thabane, delayed his return to his country yesterday as gunfights reignited tensions in the mountain kingdom after what appears to have been a coup attempt.
His aides attributed his delayed return to security concerns .
The 75-year-old Thabane, who took refuge in South Africa on Saturday, had intended to return home yesterday after regional mediators came up with proposals to ease the country’s political crisis.
“We’re still in Johannesburg,” said Samonyane Ntsekele, one of Thabane’s aides. “There’s a possibility we may not arrive in Lesotho today.”
In Maseru, one of the country’s most senior police officers said he would advise Thabane not to return.
“Who is going to protect him? The police are not able to do that,” the officer said.
Thabane fled across the border before dawn on Saturday as troops surrounded his official residence and attacked key police installations, disarming officers. Since then, the police have continued to come under attack by members of the Lesotho Defence Force, acting under the cover of darkness. The latest assault, on the Police Training College, was on Monday night. Police officers reported coming under automatic-weapon fire for about 30 seconds.
The armed forces are led by Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, whom Thabane attempted to sack before fleeing.
Lesotho intelligence officers have pointed to the deputy prime minister as being behind the “coup attempt”.
The man Thabane wanted to take over from Kamoli, Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao, fled Lesotho after an assassination attempt. He said the prime minister’s return would be dangerous if the military were not brought under control.
“Definitely we’re going back home, but I can’t say when,” Mahao said.
The army denies a coup attempt, saying its raids on the police were to confiscate weapons destined for “political fanatics”.