Mosisili survives coup attempt

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MASERU — Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili (pictured) yesterday survived an attempt on his life by a group of heavily armed men believed to have been on a mission to overthrow his government.

The Lesotho Mounted Police Service last night confirmed that four of the suspected mercenaries had been killed in an operation launched by the country’s security forces.

The suspected foreign mercenaries allegedly launched their attack in cahoots with unidentified locals, intelligence sources said. 

No locals had nevertheless been arrested at the time of going to print. 

Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing described the attack on the PM at State House as a blatant attempt to destabilise the government. 

He fell short of describing it as an attempted coup de’tat, saying investigations were in progress.

But military sources said the whole episode amounted to a coup attempt.

“Obviously if armed people attack the State House, it’s an attempt on the life of the prime minister who is its occupant. The idea is to destabilise the government,”  Metsing told the Lesotho Times last night.

“It’s obviously politically motivated. It looks like they were mercenaries.”

Sounds of gunshots engulfed Maseru West in the early hours of yesterday as the suspected mercenaries and the PM’s security details exchanged fire. 

The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) threw a dragnet across the capital after the incident and mounted roadblocks, conducting body searches and ransacking motor vehicles in a determined effort to thwart the plotters.

Sources said the group of between 15 and 30 assailants clad in military fatigues stormed State House in Maseru West in the early hours of yesterday and opened fire on the PM’s official residence. 

Alert soldiers on guard immediately retaliated. 

Mosisili was in State House at the time of the attack.

A fierce exchange of gunfire that echoed through the wee hours of the morning then ensued.

Highly placed sources said the mercenaries had earlier stolen two army vehicles from Makoanyane Barracks near Ha-Leqele in the south-eastern part of Maseru which they used to launch the attack on the PM. It is unclear how they had entered the country in the first place.

The assailants overpowered army officers guarding the entrance to the barracks and seized a Land Rover Defender and an armoured vehicle.

They then took guns from the ambushed soldiers, kidnapped six of them and forced one to drive them to State House in the armoured vehicle. 

A senior army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the mercenaries had actually arrived at State House around 2am and rammed into the main gate of the PM’s official residence. 

“The commotion immediately alerted the guards on duty who immediately sprung into action,” said the army officer, adding that the mercenaries could be heard speaking in foreign languages believed to be Afrikaans and isiZulu.

A serious exchange of gunfire ensued and a trail of blood near the gate suggested that one of the assailants could have been seriously injured.

Metsing said there were no casualties on the LDF side during the State House attack.

 As the battle intensified, the assailants fled in the stolen Land Rover towards the Thetsane area where they abandoned it and hijacked a 15-seater minibus taxi on its way to town.

The driver of the taxi and his assistant were not harmed but had their cellphones robbed. 

The two sought help to call the minibus owner from a nearby house and he in turn alerted the police.

The police pursued the taxi which was speeding towards Khubetsoana and cornered it at Selakhapane.

Another serious exchange of gunfire followed and three of the suspected mercenaries were shot dead during the fight. 

When a Lesotho Times news crew arrived at the scene, the body of one of the assailants clad in army camouflage was still lying in a pool of blood near a sewer drain.

The police had already removed the other two bodies from the scene but chunks of human flesh were scattered in the area.

All the three who were killed had hidden in the sewer drain.

Police threw teargas and shot the men as they crawled out of the drain.

The other assailants abandoned the taxi and fled on foot along Mohokare River towards the border between South Africa and Lesotho.

A combined force of the army and police caught up with one of the men, who was carrying three rifles, as he tried to cross the river.

They riddled him with a hail of bullets and he died instantly. 

Our news crew saw the police stripping the body naked before throwing it into a police van.

The body still wore brown socks with holes on the heels.

Two of the assailants were later arrested as they sought medical treatment at a clinic in Ladybrand, South Africa.

One was arrested on the Lesotho side.

The police and the army were still patrolling the border areas around Mohokare River at the time of going to print. 

Metsing confirmed the arrests but said he was not sure of the number.

The Lesotho Times learnt that the assailants in the stolen armoured car had taken a different route towards Thaba-Bosiu. 

They abandoned the vehicle at Ha-Seeiso and fled in another hijacked bakkie. 

Metsing said no curfew would be imposed, contrary to widespread speculation last night.

The latest attack joins a litany of armed disturbances that have rocked the kingdom since independence in 1966.

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