JOHANNESBURG - The tiny nation of Lesotho is threatening to erupt into violence again, less than a year after one of its former leaders fled into exile in South Africa. Now, the brutal killing of a top military officer has sent former leaders back into South Africa - where they are watching anxiously as regional officials head into Lesotho to try to restore peace.
Lesotho has had a disproportionate share of troubles in the last year - from a reported coup attempt in August to a recent spate of violence and reports of a growing political crisis.
The landlocked nation surrounded by South Africa has seen years of political feuding and tension between the police and army.
The trigger for the most recent tension was the brutal slaying of the former army chief in front of his children last month.
That, said opposition leader Thesele Maseribane, spurred him and two top leaders - including the former prime minister and a top female leader - to flee to South Africa.
Maseribane, who heads the opposition Basotho National Party, spoke to VOA News from Johannesburg, where he said he plans to apply for political asylum.
Maseribane said reliable sources told him that he was on the list of targets of controversial army commander Tlali Kamoli, who Maseribane said is the man who orchestrated the killing of former Lesotho Defense Force commander Maaparankoe Mahao. The two men were bitter rivals.
“We are running away from the Lt. Gen Kamoli’s orders that we must be arrested and must be assassinated. We flee for our lives. That’s how simply I can put it,” said Maseribane.
South Africa involvement
South Africa has sent its deputy president into Lesotho in an attempt to reduce tensions. Regional leaders from the Southern African Development Community handled last year’s crisis by bringing elections forward, a move that temporarily brought calm; but, Maseribane says mediators have consistently failed to address a major issue in Lesotho.
One of the issues is Kamoli himself, whose firing last August led to the attempted coup. He then was reinstated by the new leader, against mediators’ recommendations.
“The security issue has been an outstanding issue that was never addressed by the facilitators or by the SADC," said Maseribane. "The issue of the defense force succession, the issue of the arrest of those special forces members that killed people, the issues of the 29th of August, has not been addressed.”
The United States has urged Lesotho to investigate Mahao’s death and to conduct “urgent” security sector reform.
Maseribane said the Lesotho government also needs to clean up its affairs.
“I think that the most important thing that has to happen is that we need a special independent investigation into the matters. We need arrests, we need to see arrests, we need to see justice being outlined in Lesotho," said Maseribane.
"We need to see those people going behind bars, who have killed people. Nobody can just go on hurting people on any day in front of his children," he said. "Nobody has the right to kill people and refusing to go to justice because he is a soldier. This is something that the world has to support.”
This is an issue that affects South Africa directly -- as Lesotho’s only neighbor, violence in the mountainous enclave could spill over into South Africa.