Lesotho 'coup': Sadc rejects Thabane's troop request

Thomas Thabane says he will return to Lesotho

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Regional leaders have rejected calls by Lesotho's exiled Prime Minister Thomas Thabane for the immediate deployment of troops to help restore order in his country, an official has told the BBC.

Instead, an observer team would be urgently sent to Lesotho, she said.

Mr Thabane fled to South Africa on Saturday, claiming the military had staged a coup - a charge it denied.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma hosted emergency talks with Mr Tabane and others on Monday.

Lesotho, a mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa, has experienced several coups since independence in 1966.

The latest unrest is understood to be linked to a power struggle between Mr Thabane, reportedly supported by the police, and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, said to have the loyalty of the army.

A soldiers stands near weapons displayed on September 1, 2014 at the Makoanyane Barracks in Maseru, during a press conference to present 130 firearms and a number of explosives confiscated from the police after military raided police installations. The army said it had seized these weapons from the police
Basuto Huts in Pitseng, Lesotho (file picture) Lesotho is a largely rural country dominated by mountains and surrounded on all sides by South Africa
Army personnel man outside the military headquarters in Maseru, Lesotho on 31 August 2014. The army denies taking power

Both of them attended the talks convened by Mr Zuma in Pretoria under the banner of the South African Development Community (Sadc) regional bloc.

The two leaders had agreed to "clear timetables" that would lead to the restoration of parliament, according to a statement by Sadc.

Its restoration was a key demand of Mr Metsing.

'Exchange of fire'

Earlier on Monday, his supporters abandoned plans to protest in the capital, Maseru, over Mr Thabane's decision in June to suspend parliament after being threatened with a no-confidence vote.

Maseru is calm, but there are fears that conflict could erupt again, reports the BBC's Nomsa Maseko from South Africa's main city, Johannesburg.

The military is said to be rounding up policemen and stripping them of their uniforms, she says.

Some policemen have reportedly abandoned their posts and fled to South Africa, our correspondent adds.

Sadc executive Stergomena Tax told the BBC that regional leaders had ruled out sending troops to Lesotho any time soon.

Map

The meeting decided that a "facilitator" should be sent to help the parties resolve differences, Ms Tax said.

During the talks, Mr Thabane appealed for a peacekeeping force to be deployed, his aide said.

"You can no longer say you can only send a mission. You need an intervention of soldiers," Samonyane Ntsekele is quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

Conflict broke out on Saturday morning with soldiers involved in an exchange of fire outside two police stations.

One police officer was killed and four wounded after the military intervened, police say.

Earlier, Lesotho military spokesman Ntlele Ntoi said the military had received intelligence that the police were going to arm factions ahead of Monday's march by the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).

The LCD is led by Mr Metsing, who has been in an uneasy coalition with Mr Thabane's All Basotho Convention since 2012.

Earlier, Mr Thabane told the BBC he would return from South Africa "as soon as I know I am not going to get killed".

He said the army had rendered the government "dysfunctional", an action that amounted to a coup.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern about the "military takeover" and called for respect for "democratic rule".

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