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Police abandon posts in Lesotho, fear for lives



BY CARLEY PETESCH and NQOBILE NTSHANGASE

MASERU, Lesotho (AP) -- Police in Lesotho have been told to abandon their posts and not wear uniforms to avoid being targeted in attacks in the kingdom's continuing power vacuum, an official said Tuesday.

At least one policeman was killed when the military disarmed police stations on Saturday. Radios were also jammed in what the prime minister said was a clear coup attempt in the country of about 2 million people. The military said they merely acted on information that police would be arming demonstrators in a political protest.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled to South Africa, where he has been meeting with regional leaders. It is not yet clear when he will return to Lesotho, but the streets are unprotected by police until a resolution is found.

"Police fear for their lives because we have intelligence that there will be an attack while we are in stations on duty," said Assistant Police Commissioner Lehloka Maphatsoe. Police stations will not offer services to the population because of the likelihood of attacks on officers, said Maphatsoe.

"At the moment, really, there's nobody protecting the people," he said. The deputy commissioner apologized to the population saying the police cannot do anything because they "cannot risk the lives of the police officers."

There was an alleged attack by military on a police training camp late Monday, Maphatsoe said, though he was still trying to confirm the details.

Political tensions have been high since June when the prime minister suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence.

The Southern African Development Community, the region's 15-nation organization, said Monday it will send an envoy and an observer team to Lesotho to help restore stability and security in the tiny mountainous country encircled by South Africa.

After the talks Monday, led by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, Lesotho's leaders agreed to a roadmap with a "clear timeline" on working toward removing the parliamentary suspension. They also agreed to release a joint statement "appealing for calm and exercise restraint with a view to rapidly bring law and order back in the kingdom," according to a statement issued by the regional body.

The 15-member community has intervened before in Lesotho, which has seen a number of military coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966.

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Petesch contributed to this report from Johannesburg.

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