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article imageLesotho PM safely back home after 'coup'

By AFP     Sep 3, 2014 in World

Lesotho's embattled prime minister, who fled an apparent coup attempt at the weekend, was escorted home by South African police under tight security Wednesday, an aide said.

Prime Minister Tom Thabane "got in safely", one of his aides Samonyane Ntsekele told AFP by phone from the premier's official residence, which remained under guard by the South Africans.

Thabane fled across the border before dawn on Saturday as troops surrounded his residence and attacked key police installations, disarming officers.

After regional mediators brokered a deal to ease the country's political crisis at an emergency meeting in Pretoria, Thabane was due to return home on Tuesday but his departure from South Africa was delayed over security fears.

"Security measures were in place and so far we are fine," said newly-appointed army chief General Maaparankoe Mahao, who also fled to South Africa after an attempt to assassinate him.

"The prime minister is fine, he's already at work," said Mahao, adding that efforts were now underway to ensure his predecessor as head of the army hands over to him.

Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who Thabane sacked before being forced to flee, has been named by Lesotho intelligence officers as being behind the coup attempt along with Deputy Prime Minister Mothejoa Metsing.

The army has denied staging a coup. It said it acted to disarm the police, alleging they had planned to pass an assortment of weapons to unspecified political radicals.

Police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana, who had also fled the country, ordered police back to work after they had abandoned their duties.

"All police officers are ordered to report for duty immediately. The situation in the country has gone back to normal and my being in the country shows that," he told reporters at police headquarters.

Tsoona is travelling in a South African police car and with South African escorts.

- Uneasy coalition -

Bullet holes cover a wall at the Hamabote police station in Maseru on September 2  2014 a few days a...
Bullet holes cover a wall at the Hamabote police station in Maseru on September 2, 2014 a few days after it was attacked
Mujahid Safodien, AFP

Thabane and Metsing were in an uneasy coalition government when the prime minister suspended parliament in June, forcing divisions in the ruling coalition to the fore.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has dispatched an observer team to the mountainous African kingdom, which is completely surrounded by South Africa.

Thabane had asked the regional bloc to send peacekeeping troops, but that request was rebuffed.

SADC did, however, force the country's rival parties to agree to a deal that called for Thabane's return and the reopening of parliament, which was under discussion by the three coalition parties Wednesday.

A diplomatic source had earlier suggested the South African defence forces would escort Thabane back into Lesotho, but the South African military denied that its troops would be involved.

Soldiers speak to residents on September 2  2014  in a village near Maseru
Soldiers speak to residents on September 2, 2014, in a village near Maseru
Mujahid Safodien, AFP

"The South African National Defence Force is not involved in the VIP protection of Lesotho officials, and... is also not deployed in Lesotho at the moment," military spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga told AFP.

He said their involvement, if any, would depend on the security developments in the country and if there would be a request for deployment by SADC.

In 1998 South Africa led an ill-fated SADC invasion of Lesotho when the "kingdom in the sky" was in the midst of another political crisis, reducing much of the capital to rubble.

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