Southern African leaders to probe Lesotho ex-army chief murder

Johannesburg: Southern African leaders has ordered a regional probe into the murder last week of Lesotho's former army chief, an incident that has plunged the kingdom into fresh security crisis.

Leaders and representatives from six member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) yesterday resolved to send investigators to the tiny mountain nation after emergency talks over the crisis sparked by the killing of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao.

Mahao, who was aligned with former prime minister Thomas Thabane, was shot and killed late last week, reportedly by a group of soldiers.

His killing comes two months after Thabane -- now head of the opposition -- fled Lesotho, claiming he was the target of an assassination plot.

The leaders, meeting in Pretoria, "decided, as a matter of urgency, to establish an independent commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Brigadier Mahao," they said in a statement.

The investigators will be drawn from select countries in the 15-member SADC grouping.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, who is head of the regional bloc's security committee, said the killing of the army ex-commander had thrown the kingdom into a "serious security crisis".

Yesterday's summit also urged the Lesotho government to "urgently" undertake constitutional and security reforms. Last August, Thabane fired then army chief Tlali Kamoli, replacing him with Mahao. The next day soldiers attacked police headquarters, looting weapons and killing one officer.

Thabane described the violence as a coup attempt, though both his political opponents and the military denied any bid to seize power.

SADC instructed both Mahao and Kamoli to leave the country in the run-up to a snap election in February, which brought a new coalition government to power headed by Thabane's predecessor, Pakalitha Mosisili. Kamoli was reinstated as army chief after the election.

Completely landlocked by South Africa, Lesotho is one of the world's poorest countries and is no stranger to political upheaval.

The SADC leaders also created a special panel that would act as early warning mechanism to watch out for signs of instability and intervene appropriately.

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