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Military action ‘only option’ against renegade general: Lesotho army chief

Lesotho’s army commander said Sunday that military action was now the only option against a general accused of masterminding an attempted coup, and appealed to neighbouring states for assistance.

Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao told AFP in a telephone interview from Maseru, capital of the tiny Southern African nation, that efforts to negotiate with the renegade general after the coup bid had failed.

Tlali Kamoli, who was removed from his post as army chief by Prime Minister Tom Thabane a little over a week ago, has refused to step down.

Instead the military under his command attacked a host of police stations and his successor, Mahao, was the target of an attempted assassination.

Thabane was also sent fleeing to neighbouring South Africa, where he spent days in talks before returning home last Wednesday under the protection of police provided by Pretoria.

Kamoli had since refused all attempts to negotiate, Mahao said.

“Negotiations have failed as far as we are concerned. At this point in time I think we are left with no option but military operations.”

The army chief was frank about the difficulties he would face in taking on Kamoli, who has taken to the mountains with a seized cache of weapons including artillery, mortars and small arms.

“In the situation we are in it is very difficult to determine the numbers on his side and the numbers on my side until the strategy we are working on starts to take root,” he said.

He would not reveal details of the strategy but made it clear he expected a military confrontation in a country of just two million people, which is totally surrounded by South Africa.

– Outside assistance ‘helpful’ –

The renegade general is said by intelligence sources to have control of Lesotho’s elite special forces unit of around 40 highly-trained troops, as well as the military’s intelligence division.

“In terms of equipment he has depleted the armouries, but we have the means and support to take him on,” Mahao said.

However, “it would definitely be very helpful” to get military support from the Southern African Development Community, a 15-nation regional bloc.

“I have asked the relevant body in SADC to consider coming to our assistance,” Mahao said.

The stand-off with Kamoli needed to be resolved as soon as possible to stabilise the political situation in the country, the general said.

“I have no doubt that with stability in the military there will be stability on the political side. If we are able to resolve that we will have peace.”

Mahao said the whole problem had arisen because both Kamoli and his political backers in the nation’s uneasy coalition government faced prosecution for criminal offences.

Asked to name the politicians behind the renegade general, Mahao said Deputy Prime Minister Mothejoa Metsing was “clearly one of those”.

“The problem is they have committed certain crimes and don’t want to be prosecuted in a court of law,” said Mahao, who has claimed that the deputy prime minister is under investigations over corruption charges.

Mahao called on Kamoli to surrender and negotiate, but said his predecessor seemed bent on military confrontation.

“Our analysis of his operations is that he seems to want to dig in in defence and perhaps go into some kind of guerrilla action,” he said.

Despite this, Mahao might have an uphill struggle to convince SADC to provide military support, as a request by Thabane for peacekeeping troops was rebuffed last week.

However, South Africa is keen to ensure that the independent state within its borders does not fall into lawlessness and has deployed heavily-armed police to Maseru to guard key points.