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Wednesday, September 23, 1998 Published at 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK

World: Africa

Chaos in Lesotho

Lesotho's capital burns

South Africa has announced its troops will remain in Lesotho until peace is restored.

Jeremy Vine in Lesotho: "The capital city of this poverty stricken country has been devastated"
But the action has left Lesotho's capital in chaos and its citizens are blaming South Africa for the violence and looting.

Buildings in the capital Maseru have been burning out of control as gangs loot abandoned shops while the police watch.

More than 25 people, including nine South African soldiers, have died in the fighting.

[ image: Looters in Maseru took advantage of the chaos]
Looters in Maseru took advantage of the chaos
South Africa's military intervention came after weeks of unrest caused by allegations of fraud during general elections in May.

The BBC's correspondent in Lesotho, Jeremy Vine, says many Lesothans without political axes to grind are blaming South Africa for the chaos in Maseru.

He says shops and government offices have been comprehensively stripped and set alight and that some businessmen are protecting their property by taking up arms.

"As an exercise in restoring order, their intervention, has been hugely counter-productive. It will take months, perhaps years, to rebuild Maseru," he reports.

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

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

Botswana troops also involved

South African soldiers were joined by troops from Botswana. 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.

The BBC's Jeremy Vine describes the scene in Maseru
The South African soldiers killed during the fighting in Maseru are the first to die in active service since apartheid ended.

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

Our correspondent says South African forces had not expected such fierce resistance because they did not account for opposition factions within the Lesotho Defence Force.

[ image: South Africa says resistance has been greater than expected]
South Africa says resistance has been greater than expected
He says the arrival of troops from Botswana is important for South Africa because the latter does not want to be seen as taking unilateral action against their neighbour. 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.

South African defence spokeswoman Lt-Col Laverne Machine: aims and objectives
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."

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.

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