Thursday 26 April 2018

Lesotho's army chief shot dead by rival soldiers: official

Lesotho's army chief shot dead by rival soldiers: official
(AFP 09/06/17)

Lesotho's army commander was shot dead by rival officers at a military barracks Tuesday, an official told AFP, in an assassination likely to revive instability in the mountainous African kingdom.

The two senior officers behind the attack were also killed in the gunfight with Khoantle Motsomotso's bodyguards, just two months after elections meant to usher in a new era of peace.

"They attempted to forcefully enter his office. There was a shoot-out between the two... and the commander's bodyguards," a military official who declined to be named told AFP.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane confirmed the deaths at a press conference, describing them as "a serious setback to vigorous efforts to restore peace and stability."

Thabane's new coalition government took office in June after the third general election since 2012 as Lesotho endures a series of political upheavals.

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

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

- Regional intervention -

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

Thabane's estranged wife was shot dead two days before his inauguration.

Known as Africa's Switzerland because of its mountainous scenery, Lesotho has a long history of political instability having also suffered coups in 1986 and 1991.

In 2015, a former army chief was gunned down by soldiers who claimed that he was resisting arrest outside the capital Maseru.

Critics accuse the military of favouring Thabane's old rival Pakalitha Mosisili who ruled from 1998-2012 and 2015-2017.

Lesotho is important to South Africa as it provides much of the water supply to Johannesburg, while the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) has worked for years to try to resolve its political tensions.

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

"From the SADC point of view, we thought that the Lesotho problem ended and this is what we were promised by the new prime minister who said that now there is going to be peace now in Lesotho.

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

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

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

Years of political friction have hampered attempts to fight dire poverty and the world's second highest HIV infection rate.

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