Deal reached to end Lesotho military standoff

Michael J. Jordan
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Members of the Lesotho national are seen next to a South African Police armoured vehicle outside Maseru on October 1, 2014

Members of the Lesotho national are seen next to a South African Police armoured vehicle outside Maseru on October 1, 2014 (AFP Photo/Hlompho Letsielo)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - South Africa's deputy president brokered a deal to end a destabilising post-coup standoff in Lesotho Thursday, with the head of the police and rival military commanders agreeing to step down.

Southern African mediators led by Cyril Ramaphosa said they had convinced renegade Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who is accused of being behind an August 30 attempted coup, to take a leave of absence, along with two other top security officials.

Kamoli, rival military commander Maaparankoe Mahao and Lesotho police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana will hand over authority to their deputy commanders for an unspecified time.

Kamoli is suspected of leading the early morning raid on Prime Minister Tom Thabane's residence and the national police headquarters, which killed one police officer and injured nine.

He has since refused an order to relinquish command and has armed a small group of loyal fighters, prompting questions about stability in the small landlocked nation.

"What's important here is that they have agreed to do all of this, to set aside their own personal interests," said Ramaphosa as he announced the agreement.

"What has surged forward are the interests of the nation," he added. "They've been promised nothing but a wonderful leave of absence and wonderful work-visits."

Ramaphosa had earlier held secret talks with the group, despite Kamoli being investigated by Lesotho police for two crimes linked to the August 30 assault: high treason and murder.

- 'Reasonable compromises' -

A defence official told AFP on Thursday that a partial amnesty was discussed in the hope of ending the crisis.

Thato Mohasoa, principal secretary for the Lesotho defence ministry, said the government was "amenable to making reasonable compromises" to end the logjam.

He also said authorities would be willing to provide the suspected coup leader his full retirement package.

But more sensitive was the amnesty -- especially for the crime of murder.

"We can discuss possible amnesty for politically motivated reasons," he said. "But not for what's considered purely criminal actions."

The military spokesman, Major Ntlele Ntoi, could not be reached for comment.

Despite the deal Ramaphosa will still have to rebuild trust between the country's two most important security services –- the Lesotho Defence Force and Lesotho Mounted Police Service.

In one of a series of recent clashes, a night-time shootout on September 30 between soldiers and police on the outskirts of the capital Maseru left two officers shot and wounded.

A top Lesotho police official told AFP he saw no major obstacle to mending ties with the military if the coup leader and his allies, who have stymied criminal probes into transgressions by troops, are removed.

"We still have good cooperation with some members of the army; the problem is with just a small group of soldiers involved with these cases," said Moshe Raleting, the Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police.

Ramaphosa, mediating on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, had already reached a deal that allowed the re-opening of parliament, which had been shuttered for four months.

As part of that agreement, elections have been moved up two years to February 2015.