TWO bodyguards tasked with protecting Lesotho’s Prime Minister Tom Thabane were shot and wounded on Sunday and a bystander killed in the crossfire, five months after a failed putsch in the tiny African kingdom, one of his senior advisers said.
Both the injured men were soldiers who had tipped off Thabane about the planned August 2014 coup when the military attacked several police installations and the prime minister’s residence, killing one police officer, the adviser said. The tip off might have helped Thabane make a quick escape to safety in South Africa.
“The two guards went against their own men that day, absolutely,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggesting that Sunday’s assault could be linked to the failed coup.
The shootings outside the gates of the Royal Palace of Lesotho King Letsie III also come four weeks before national elections in the impoverished country of two million which is surrounded by South Africa.
The bodyguards were not accompanying the prime minister at the time.
“We’re still trying to figure out the motives. My gut-feeling is that what’s happening now is to frustrate the election process,” the adviser added.
Lesotho’s February 28 elections are being held more than two years early in order to restore stability following the August 30 coup attempt.
On the morning of the attempt, Thabane, 75, was tipped off about the plan and fled to safety across the nearby border into neighbouring South Africa before his official residence was raised by soldiers.
The failed putsch exposed friction between the Lesotho military and the police, pushing the country to the brink of a full blown conflict.
Though tensions have eased, police say they are still investigating recent claims that foreign “mercenaries” entered Lesotho to assassinate Thabane and other leaders.
The army, however, is still seen by many as being behind the August putsch.
In October 2014, South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa helped broker a political agreement that re-opened parliament for the first time since June and pushed the polls forward.