Lesotho’s army commander has been assassinated and two senior officers shot dead, sparking fears of a possible coup and prompting some senior politicians to flee the country yesterday.
This comes just two months after elections meant to usher in a new era of peace.
Lesotho’s permanent secretary for the Ministry of Defence and National Security‚ Colonel Tanki Mothae, said the gunmen – Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Tefo Hashatsi – had been under criminal investigation.
Army boss Khoantle Motsomotso was gunned down in his office at the Lesotho Defence Force’s headquarters in Maseru.
His killers‚ armed with hand grenades and handguns‚ forced their way into his office‚ shooting him before attempting to flee the military compound.
They were killed after a gunfight with Motsomotso’s bodyguards and other soldiers.
The shootout is reported to have lasted for nearly 40 minutes.
The killing follows the recent arrest of several soldiers in connection with the murder of former Lesotho Defence Force commander General Maaparanko Mahao in 2015.
Mothae said that both Sechele and Hashatsi‚ and several other soldiers‚ who were recently arrested‚ were facing a criminal investigation for their alleged involvement in Mahao’s murder.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane confirmed the deaths and described the attack as a serious setback to vigorous efforts to restore peace and stability.
A new coalition government took office in Lesotho in June unSouth der Thabane, who vowed to bring peace to the country that has been rocked by a series of political upheavals.
Thabane’s estranged wife was shot dead two days before his inauguration.
Mothae said Lesotho Defence Force members‚ who were stationed both in and outside of Maseru‚ had been addressed by their commanders.
“The situation at the time in Maseru is calm. Life is carrying on as normal‚” he said. African Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokeswoman Joy Peters said: “The situation is being monitored.”
But Defence Force spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said later that the situation prevailing in Lesotho was a Southern African Development Community (SADC) matter.
President Jacob Zuma, who has taken over the chairmanship of the SADC, called for calm and restraint, saying he was revolted by Motsomotso’s murder.
Zuma said the SADC would send a ministerial fact-finding mission to Lesotho tomorrow to assess the situation and determine the required intervention.
Lesotho is important to South Africa as it provides much of the water supply to Johannesburg, while the regional SADC has worked to promote stability. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has made frequent trips to Lesotho to secure peace among political rivals as a facilitator for the SADC.
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Letsie III, who has no formal power.
The June election was the third since 2012, with political friction hampering attempts to fight dire poverty and a high HIV-infection rate.
– TimesLIVE, with additional reporting by Reuters