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Over 150 Lesotho govt officials in secret location

EWN has visited the secret location where the officials are hiding following the attempted coup.

FILE: An immigration sign at the Maseru Border gate in Lesotho. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Eyewitness News has visited the secret location where over 150 Lesotho government officials are in hiding after fleeing an attempted coup.

They say Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane will hold a one-on-one meeting with President Jacob Zuma this evening to try to resolve the current political impasse.

Thabane fled Lesotho for South Africa early on Saturday, hours before the army surrounded his residence and overran police stations in the capital Maseru, in what the prime minister called a coup by the military.

Reports say there's increased military presence in Lesotho.

Officials in Lesotho say top police officers have fled the country after the military disarmed them last week.

The prime minister's spokesperson Thabo Thakalekoala says the country currently doesn't have a police force.

"The military has been wreaking havoc in the country and officers are no longer occupying their offices so we fled fearing for our lives."

He says everyone is anxious about the outcome of Zuma's meeting with Thabane which is expected to outline the way forward.

He's confirmed Motloheloa Phooko, a member of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy party, is officially in charge of the country after Thabane fled.

LESOTHO PM CALLS FOR REGIONAL PEACE

The prime minister has asked southern African states to send peacekeepers into his mountain kingdom to restore order.

Lesotho's army denied seeking to oust Thabane, saying it moved against police suspected of planning to arm a political faction in the country encircled by South Africa. One policeman was shot dead and four others wounded.

The unrest stems from a power struggle between Thabane, who is supported by the police, and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who has the loyalty of the army, diplomats said.

Tension had risen since Thabane, who has accused Metsing of orchestrating the coup, suspended Parliament in June amid feuding in the two-year-old governing coalition.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) defence and security troika, which includes foreign ministers from South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, met Thabane and Metsing through the night to try to find a peaceful settlement to the crisis.

In Maseru, the atmosphere was quiet but tense on Monday after the police commissioner said soldiers had carried out further raids on police installations and even officers' homes, taking away weapons and uniforms.

Commissioner Khothatso Ts'ooana told Public Choice FM radio station that this meant police would not be able to carry out their normal duties. Police stations were deserted and some officers had fled over the border into South Africa.

Thabane told Reuters on Saturday he had fired the army commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, and appointed Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao to replace him. But on Sunday Kamoli said he was still in charge of the military.

Lesotho, a mountainous state of two million people, has suffered a several coups since independence from Britain in 1966. At least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting in 1998, when Pretoria sent in troops.

Besides textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, Lesotho's other big earner is hydropower and water, both of which it supplies to neighbour South Africa.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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