, MASERU, Sept 2 – Gunfire and power cuts rekindled tensions in Lesotho’s capital Maseru overnight, as the mountain nation awaited the possible return of its exiled prime minister following an apparent coup.
An aide to Tom Thabane told AFP the 75-year-old could return to the country Tuesday, after regional mediators brokered a road map to ease the country’s political crisis.
“We are going home now, most probably we will be in Lesotho tomorrow,” Samonyane Ntsekele said.
Thabane had fled across the border to South Africa before dawn on Saturday, as troops attacked key police installations and surrounded his official residence.
The military denies carrying out a coup and says its raids were to confiscate weapons from police stations destined for “political fanatics”.
After three days of relative calm, swathes of Maseru plunged into darkness on Monday evening.
The sound of sporadic automatic gunfire echoed off the mountains from undetermined locations.
Tensions between the military and the police mean there is no security presence on the streets, which emptied completely after dark.
“We don’t know what is happening. They are just fighting for their own things they don’t want to say anything to us,” said Lineo Mattadi, a 28-year-old upholstery factory worker.
Fearing a power vacuum and further violence, the United States ordered the families of its diplomats to leave, in case land borders and airports are closed.
By Maseru’s main military base nervous and heavily armed young soldiers questioned passers-by, fearing foreign intervention could be at hand. READ: Lesotho’s public service minister says he is acting premier after ‘coup’
That seems unlikely. Prime Minister Thabane request that the southern Africa regional bloc SADC to send a peacekeeping force troops has been rebuffed.
But SADC did force the country’s rival parties to agree to a deal that will see Thabane return and parliament reopen, after two days of talks in Pretoria.
SADC will also send an observer team to the mountainous African kingdom to monitor political, defence and security developments.
South Africa surrounds the tiny country, and is keen to make sure it does not fall into lawlessness.
Lesotho’s vast dams provide much of the drinking water for Johannesburg and Pretoria, and any weapons needed in a full-scale conflict would have to flow through the “Rainbow Nation.”