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Former Botswana President to Mediate Lesotho Political Dispute

The former president of Botswana is flying to Lesotho Monday to mediate a dispute over parliamentary seats that led to attacks on political leaders and a nighttime curfew. Correspondent Scott Bobb spoke with Ketumile Masire and has this report from Johannesburg.

Botswana's former President Ketumile Masire says the dispute that has paralyzed Lesotho politics for weeks stems from two basic disagreements.

"One is the interpretation of the electoral law and the other is just the disagreement between the government and the opposition," he said.

The confrontation has been simmering since parliamentary elections in February. But it came to a head last week when unidentified gunmen attacked the homes of three government ministers and the leader of the main opposition group.

Police are investigating the attacks and a night time curfew has been imposed.

The February elections were judged to be fair despite a short campaign period and some procedural irregularities.

Under reforms introduced in 2002, 80 seats were chosen by direct ballot. Forty more were to be allocated proportionally according to each party's overall results.

The purpose was to give smaller parties greater representation in the assembly.

The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy won 61 of the directly elected seats and with its share of proportional seats was set to dominate parliament.

However, the opposition protested after the winning party forged an alliance with a smaller party that gave it overwhelming control of the assembly.

Mr. Masire says his team has proposed that international experts who helped draft the electoral reforms resolve this dispute.

"We have contacted those experts to come back and see, one, if the law has been framed according to their advice and, two, if it was in accord with the intention of the Basotho," he said.

He says both sides say they will accept the experts' ruling.

Mr. Masire calls the second issue one of human relations between political leaders with long-standing rivalries.

The elections in 1998 were marred by violence, which was only quelled after the arrival of troops from Botswana and South Africa.

The next elections, in 2002, were peaceful and judged to be fair although there were disputes over procedural matters.

Mr. Masire said his team will seek to determine the root cause of the country's electoral disputes.

"This is the question," he said. "Is there really a problem or is the problem just that after every election the Basuthos find a reason to complain about the outcome of the elections?"

Mr. Masire, who retired in 1998 after 18 years as president, was asked to mediate the Lesotho dispute by the Southern African Development Community, SADC.

SADC announced the trip Thursday recommending that a formal political dialogue be initiated to resolve the stalemate.

Preliminary meetings were held last week with political, diplomatic, religious and civic leaders. They drafted an agenda and agreed to begin what was called the main dialogue on Monday.