Lesotho’s prime minister has said he had fled for his life across the border to South Africa, as he accused the military of seizing power and leaving his country in flux.
Tom Thabane told Al Jazeera on Saturday that the army was “all over the streets”, and had taken control of government buildings and key installations before he managed to escape. He added that he suspected his deputy, Mothet Joa Metsing, was involved.
He said later on Sunday: “I have been removed from control not by the people but by the armed forces, and that is illegal. I will return as soon as my life is not in danger… I will not go back to Lesotho to get killed.”
The military on Sunday rejected his claims. Major Ntlele Ntoi said that allegations of a coup was “not a new thing”, and said Kamoli remained in his post. “That is a baseless allegation.”
There had been an exchange of fire on Saturday between youths, police and the military, he said, but the military “has returned to the barracks”.
Metsing also denied a coup. “I would not still be a deputy prime minister; the prime minister would not still be the prime minister if a coup [had] taken place,” he told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
He said the army had given valid reasons as to why it occupied government buildings.
Tensions have been high in the kingdom since June when Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence. Metsing had vowed to form a new coalition that would remove Thabane.
Diplomatic sources said the army made its move after the prime minister fired the army commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli. The army spokesman said Kamoli was still in charge of the military.
South Africa’s foreign ministry said it was monitoring the situation, adding that an unconsitutional change of government would not be tolerated.
Since its independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho has undergone a number of military coups. In 1998 at least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died and during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting.
The landlocked country’s first coalition government was formed in 2012 after elections ousted the 14-year incumbent Pakalitha Mosisili.