CAPE TOWN (AFP) – 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.
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.