, MASERU, Sept 3 – Lesotho’s embattled prime minister, who fled to South Africa at the weekend after an apparent bid to oust him, returned safely to his home country on Wednesday, an aide said.
Prime Minister Tom Thabane “has crossed into the country,” his advisor Samonyane Ntsekele told AFP, speaking on the phone from the premier’s official residence. “He got in safely.”
“We are at State House now.”
The prime minister, whose departure from South Africa had been delayed over security fears, was guarded by South African police, according to the aide.
He said South African police accompanied the premier on his journey back home.
Thabane fled to neighbouring South Africa on Saturday alleging a coup by the army and saying he feared for his life after troops surrounded his official residence and attacked key police installations, disarming officers.
The army has denied staging a coup. READ: Regional powers to hold Lesotho crisis meeting.
The unrest prompted members of a regional security bloc to call an emergency meeting in Pretoria, during which a deal was brokered to ease the country’s political crisis.
Lesotho police have been absent from the streets of the capital since the pre-dawn military attack of Saturday, which killed one officer and seriously injuring four more.
Several police officers mingled with the South African force at the prime minister’s residence, Ntsekele said.
Thabane had initially planned to return on Tuesday but security fears forced the delay.
A dry run was conducted on Tuesday night to assess security levels and there was a “security breech”, according to a diplomatic source.
Ahead of Thabane’s return earlier Wednesday, AFP journalists saw dozens of uniformed South African police officers arriving, in civilian cars, at a hotel in the capital Maseru.
Diplomatic sources had earlier suggested the South African defence forces were going to help Thabane cross the border by road. READ: Lesotho’s public service minister says he is acting premier after ‘coup’.
But the South African military denied that its troops would offer protection to Thabane.
“The South African National Defence Force is not involved in the VIP protection of Lesotho officials, and … is also not deployed in Lesotho at the moment,” military spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga told AFP.
He said their involvement if any would depend on the security developments in the country and if there would be a request for deployment by the SADC.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is sending an observer team to the mountainous African kingdom.
Power struggles have been simmering in the small kingdom governed by a shaky three-party coalition formed two years ago.
Coalition partners have accused the 75-year-old Thabane of seeking to undermine the government.