Zuma in bid to rescue Lesotho peace deal

Michael J. Jordan
South African President Jacob Zuma(R) meets with Lesotho's King Letsie III (L) at the Royal palace on September 9, 2014 in Maseru (AFP Photo/Elmond Jiyane)

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) - South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Lesotho on Tuesday, in what is being seen as a last-ditch effort to resolve a political crisis amid calls for regional military intervention in the tiny African nation.

Zuma formally greeted Lesotho King Letsie III at the royal palace before meeting with Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane, who suspended parliament in June and has struggled to preserve a rare African coalition government.

Zuma also met sparring coalition partners and opposition leaders –- especially those with the influence to woo out of hiding Lesotho's ousted military commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.

Kamoli is accused of triggering the crisis on August 30 with an attempted coup, including the botched abduction of Thabane and an assault on several police stations.

Last week, Thabane met Zuma in Pretoria and requested his approval to deploy troops from the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Zuma refused, urging Thabane to re-open Parliament, resolve the crisis politically, then provided South African police security to the prime minister and other leaders who fled.

On Tuesday in Maseru, the Lesotho capital, South African government spokesman Clayson Monyela reiterated that peaceful resolution was the priority.

"President Zuma is here to remind everyone of their political commitments from last week," he said. "Let's give diplomacy a chance."

Yet the situation in Lesotho has escalated since the Pretoria talks. Particularly after Kamoli -– whom Thabane had fired the day before the attempted coup, and replaced with a new military commander –- not refused to step down, but reportedly led a circle of army loyalists in looting an armoury.

He has since reportedly hunkered down in military barracks outside the capital.

A number of coalition leaders and government ministers are now heavily guarded, or have relocated to other homes.

For them, they say security –- and ending the Kamoli standoff –- comes first. Then, resumption of parliamentary politics.

Thabane's newly appointed military commander himself, General Maaparankoe Mahao, told AFP on Sunday that SADC military intervention is now the only option.

That is why much attention Tuesday will focus on Zuma’s words for Kamoli’s key supporters: Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing –- who denies instigating the crisis -– and former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who appointed Kamoli and now leads the Parliament opposition.

"We can’t talk about moving forward politically when we have this prevailing security situation," Minister of Home Affairs Joang Molapo told AFP as he awaited Zuma at the airport.

"We hope he’ll help us return our military command to civilian control. Until then, we can't take the option of military intervention off the table."