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Tuesday, September 22, 1998 Published at 22:53 GMT 23:53 UK

World: Africa

Troops committed until peace returns to Lesotho

Troops sent in after weeks of unrest

South Africa says that its troops, who crossed into Lesotho on Tuesday, will remain there until peace is restored.

The intervention followed fears of a coup after months of opposition protests over complaints that the government had rigged general elections in May.

BBC interview with Mangosuthu Buthelezi
The acting South African President, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, told the BBC that South African soldiers would stay until the situation was peacefully resolved.

"They will remain there until peace is restored, whenever that will be," Mr Buthelezi said.

" We regard this as a very serious attempt to try and normalise the situation at the request of the legitimate government of Lesotho," he said.

South African soldiers were joined overnight by troops from Botswana.

BBC Correspondent Jeremy Vine in Lesotho: Fighting and looting
The Botswana government said they had been sent to restore law and order under an agreement signed by the Lesotho king in 1994 that Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe would guarantee democracy there.

A South African army spokesperson for the Chief of Joint Operations in Pretoria said 200 Botswanan troops were helping the South African intervention, which has run into trouble since the operation started early on Tuesday morning.

[ image: South Africa says resistance has been greater than expected]
South Africa says resistance has been greater than expected
At least six South African soldiers have been killed during a day of fighting in the capital Maseru, the first to die in active service since apartheid ended.

Another 11 Lesotho soldiers have been wounded in the clashes.

Reports say there are several civilian casualties and hospitals are treating dozens of people with bullet injuries.

Jeremy Vine: Troops encountering resistance
The BBC's correspondent in Maseru, Jeremy Vine, says the South African forces had not expected such fierce resistance because they did not account for opposition factions within the Lesotho Defence Force.

Most of the resistance is centred on the main army barracks and the palace of Lesotho's King Letsie III, where opposition forces had taken up positions and which the South African forces attacked using tanks.

Our correspondent says attempts by South African troops to take control of the palace have angered many people in Lesotho because they see it as an attack on the nation.

'Regional support' for intervention

The arrival of troops from Botswana is important for South Africa because they don't want to be seen as taking unilateral action against their neighbour.

South African defence spokeswoman Lt-Col Laverne Machine: aims and objectives
Our correspondent says South Africa wants to present the intervention as in line with the 14-nation Southern African Development Community's (SADC) policy of supporting governments in power.

The South African Deputy Foreign Minister, Aziz Pahad, earlier said: "There was a coup in Lesotho and in terms of SADC policy, SADC decided to assist the government to normalise the situation so that political processes can take their course."


[ image: Looters took advantage of the chaos in Maseru]
Looters took advantage of the chaos in Maseru
At the border post with South Africa, a steady stream of foreigners have been fleeing Lesotho.

Most diplomatic staff have been evacuated and South African citizens have been warned that they could become the target of revenge attacks.

Recent troubles

Lesotho has experienced seven weeks of anti-government protests, some of them violent, after the disputed election.

The opposition complained that May's general election, which gave the ruling Congress for Democracy 79 out of 80 seats, was rigged.

Earlier in September, 15 senior officers fled Lesotho for South Africa.

They had been arrested by junior ranks and forced to resign in a disagreement over military intervention to end six weeks of unrest in the capital.

A mountainous land-locked country in the middle of South Africa, Lesotho has a population of 2 million people.

It is one of the world's poorest countries and has been wracked by coups and insurrections since it emerged from military rule in 1993.

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