Bloodshed fears grow in Lesotho

Analysts warn factional splits in defence force may lead to post-election violence

FACTIONAL splits within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) have raised security threat levels in the country as Prime Minister Tom Thabane took an early lead in the weekend’s hotly contested election.

The fears come as radio station Harvest FM carried unconfirmed reports that the military’s special forces and other specialist units, who side with Thabane’s rival, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, were set to infiltrate celebration rallies later this week.

The special forces are said to have cached heavy weapons, armaments and other equipment.

LDF spokesman Major-General Ntlele Ntoi yesterday failed to return calls or SMSes for comment.

On Saturday, Metsing, who leads the Lesotho Democratic Congress, said after casting his vote that he had no control of the defence force.

“I am not commander-in-chief. I can do nothing to control them. It’s not my job to. This is nothing but a plot by the prime minister, who loves instability.”

His comments came after Thabane, leader of the All Basotho Congress, said he would ensure that those soldiers and officers who tried to overthrow him in a deadly coup – in which he fired army chief Tlali Kamoli in September – would be prosecuted.

In June, Thabane dissolved parliament ahead of a no-confidence vote in him after he called for an investigation into Metsing for corruption.

Lesotho legal and academic analysts yesterday warned of an alarming split developing within the defence force.

Advocate Itumeleng Shale, of the Lesotho National University’s law school, said there were alarming splits emerging in the LDF.

“Politics here is complex. Its complexity stretches into all arms of service of government including the security services, police and the military, which are extremely powerful ministries which are desirable to be in charge of.

“If Thabane wins, Metsing will be prosecuted for corruption. If that happens there are big problems for Lesotho,” Shale said.

Lesotho Law Society president Patrick Shale said post-election violence was a reality.

“What is more worrying is that other than the special forces supporting Metsing, there is another faction emerging whose allegiance is unknown.

“No one knows whether they will try to do something on their own or not. The factions were clear after Kamoli was fired. Soldiers have been conducting operations on their own in the districts. No one knows what they are doing. They seem to have no command structures.

“These radio broadcasts are worrying. No one knows what’s going on. Trouble seems to be coming. We don’t need the horror of 1998,” he said.

A Lesotho police officer, speaking from a Metsing stronghold in Leribe, said they were aware of the dangers.

“The special forces are here. They are not in uniforms, but we know who they are and are ready for them. We have been given instructions and know what to do.”

A South African public order police officer based in Leribe said they were on standby. “If there is going to be trouble we’ve been told to expect it anytime from now.”

African Union observer mission head Rails Odinga said: “SADC will ensure that peaceful election negotiations occur without bloodshed.”

-Graeme Hosken

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