Lesotho police investigate own officers over coup killing

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - Lesotho's police force is investigating some of its own officers for their possible role in an attempted military coup that left one policeman dead, senior commissioners have told AFP.

At least two officers are being investigated as part of a wider treason and murder inquiry, suggesting the putsch -- which forced the prime minister to flee to South Africa -- may be broader and more intricately planned than first thought.

In the early hours of August 30, soldiers moved on the homes of the prime minister, a minister, an army commander and the headquarters of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service, leaving one officer dead and nine injured.

Prime Minster Tom Thabane escaped shortly beforehand, having received a tip-off.

"There are allegations that some police were working with (the) military on this, and we're looking into it," Deputy Police Commissioner Masupha Masupha told AFP.

"Even I've been implicated. But investigating and charging are different things. If I find something, I won't shy away from confronting anyone with their unlawful acts."

Lehloka Maphatsoe -- an assistant police commissioner who is also head of the Interpol national central bureau -- told AFP on Monday that the cellphones of two police officers have been sent to neighbouring South Africa for analysis.

Police in Bloemfontein are checking for "suspicious communications" prior to the attacks and whether there were attempts to delete that evidence.

He cautioned that the allegations against the police were unproven and could be part of a "propaganda strategy to cause panic or distrust among members of the police service."

But one apparent target of the August attack, government minister and coalition party leader Thesele Maseribane, told AFP he was not surprised by the accusations.

He has alleged that "renegade" military commander Tlali Kamoli, who still refuses to step down, and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing carried out the coup in order to halt corruption investigations against them.

Police officers present on August 30 have reported soldiers demanded to see police files on the pair.

"After causing a crime, you have to cover that crime by committing another crime," Maseribane said.

"And if you have to find a way to steal files from the police, then you have to corrupt some police too, by promising them promotions after the coup."

However, Maseribane said, in a nation of just 1.8 million Basotho, it's not easy to keep a conspiracy under wraps.

"We all know each other, we're all related, there are no secrets," he said.

"If you plan a coup, it must succeed. Because once it fails, people start talking. Many are now nervous, as others put the puzzle together and point fingers."

For Lesotho police –- still mourning the comrade killed -- news of an internal investigation has sown seeds of distrust within the ranks.

Masupha hosted a meeting on Thursday for all officers, to air any concerns or grievances.

Some said they do not trust management, making accusations of complicity, because "some of you have been involved in this mess," according to Maphatsoe's account of the meeting.

Masupha then tried to reassure them, saying that if any officer has any concrete information with allegations against any police officials, they could come forward to him, anonymously, and he would protect their identity.

Prime Minister Thabane and many of his allies now receive round the clock protection from Namibian and South African police deployed to the small mountainous kingdom.