MASERU (Reuters) - A bystander was killed and three people were wounded in a shootout between soldiers and two former bodyguards of Lesotho’s prime minister, the army said on Monday, raising tensions before elections due this month.
Lesotho brought forward 2017 elections by two years in a deal brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to try to resolve political tensions after an attempted coup in August that forced Prime Minister Tom Thabane to briefly seek refuge in South Africa.
Thabane accused Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing of helping to plan a coup attempt by the army. Metsing and the army denied the allegation.
The shootout on Sunday afternoon in the southern African country left two former bodyguards of Thabane and a soldier on guard duty at the SADC mission offices in the capital Maseru critically injured, army spokesman Ntlele Ntoi said.
Ntoi said the incident happened when the two former bodyguards refused to stop at a security checkpoint and started shooting at the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers controlling access into SADC mission’s offices.
“The LDF personnel returned fire and assailants fled into a nearby building in which one private security guard lost his life during the exchange of fire,” Ntoi said in a statement.
The unrest stems from a power struggle between Thabane, who is supported by the police, and Metsing, who has the loyalty of the army, diplomats said.
Tension has risen since Thabane suspended parliament in June amid feuding in the 2-year-old governing coalition.
Coups have plagued Lesotho, which is completely surrounded by South Africa, since independence from Britain in 1966.