Lesotho is on edge after the killing of its former army commander


17 September - Lesotho's leaders are hoping to restore stability by holding early elections. The people in the capital Maseru have welcomed the decision.

MASERU – Lesotho is in the grip of another reign of terror with the killing of former Lesotho army commander Maaparankoe Mahao by soldiers, while all opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister Tom Thabane, have fled the country.

The army commander Tlali Kamoli, who mounted a brief coup against Thabane last August, appears to have launched a campaign to get rid of Thabane loyalists.

Mahao – whom Thabane appointed as army commander last August after firing Kamoli – was stopped by three Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) trucks as he left his farm on the outskirts of Maseru on Thursday and shot in front of his two children, according to relatives.

The soldiers told his 13-year-old son that they were taking his father to the hospital but instead took him to their barracks.

Later on Thursday night, Defence Minister Tseliso Mokhosi announced that a soldier had been killed by LDF members after allegedly resisting arrest. He did not even bother to mention Mahao by name.

Mahao’s family said that, according to his son, who was driving with his father, Mahao had surrendered and thrown his hands in the air immediately when one of the three LDF vehicles drove in front of and blocked his way. They fired anyway.

Mahao’s relatives petitioned the High Court early Friday after they had been denied access to Mahao’s body. The first court order issued by the High Court for the body to be released to the family was defied.

The LDF only released his body to a local mortuary after the family went to court for the second time on Friday.

Kamoli refused to appear before the High Court to explain what had happened to Mahao, instead sending a junior official who only told the court he had died in a “secret military operation”.

Mahoa’s killing follows the recent murder of prominent businessman, Thabiso Tsosane, a good friend of Thabane and funder of his All Basotho Convention (ABC).

And several soldiers have been arrested and assaulted for allegedly conniving with Mahao and former police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana – another Thabane loyalist – to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

Some of these soldiers who came to court after relatives got court orders for the LDF to produce them, were limping or bleeding from their injuries. High Court Judge Semapo Peete issued a warning that Lesotho was not a military state.

Thabane has fled the country, claiming he had been tipped of a plot to kill him. He fled with Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Thesele Maseribane, with whom he cooperated against Metsing in the previous coalition which was defeated by Mosisili in February elections.

They were followed by Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader, Keketso Rantso, who fled after unknown assailants launched a night attack on her house.

The eruption of renewed political violence has placed a big question mark over the intervention of South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who brokered a settlement after Kamoli’s coup attempt last year.

The deal brought forward elections, which had been scheduled for 2017, to February this year.

Under the deal, the feuding security chiefs, Mahao, Kamoli and Tsooana were all removed from their posts to try to restore stability. But Mosisili immediately re-appointed Kamoli to his former position as head of the army and the violence began soon after.

US ambassador to Lesotho, Mathew Harrington, has warned that his country will discontinue its large aid package to impoverished Lesotho if the violence does not stop.

The European Union has given similar warnings. But Mosisili has dismissed all criticism and warned donor countries not to interfere in Lesotho’s internal affairs.

The murder of Mahao has finally alerted the world to the political violence which has been growing for months. Both United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon and African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma called for the perpetrators to be brought to book.

Calls are also growing for Lesotho to be booted out of America’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which provides duty-free access to the lucrative US market for exports from qualifying African countries.

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