JOHANNESBURG, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- The situation in Lesotho remained tense on Saturday after a possible coup that sent Prime Minister Tom Thabane going into hiding.
Early Saturday morning, the military surrounded and then seized the police headquarters and the Mabote police station in the capital of Maseru, claiming that police officers intended to pass arms and ammunitions to Thabane's All Basotho Convention, called "Under the Tree" (UTTA).
Sports minister and leader of the Basotho National Party Thesele Maseribane said it was a possible coup attempt in the mountainous kingdom, an enclave surrounded by South Africa.
Military personnel were seen driving around the residences of the prime minister and other government officials, residents in the area said.
Heavily-armed soldiers also surrounded State House and occupied the main headquarters of the police force in Mabote, which is loyal to Thabane.
An exchange of gunfire was heard and five people were reportedly injured.
The gun-fight came after Thabane had removed the army commander, Lt.-Gen. Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, a source told Xinhua. However, the army said Kamoli was still in charge of the military.
The military also jammed radio stations and TV programs, and cut off phone lines, Maseribane said.
The prime minister also said the military actions amounted to a coup.
"It is a military coup because it is led by the military. And the military are outside the instructions of the commander in chief, who is myself," Thabane said in an interview with South Africa's ENCA TV.
"I have been removed from control not by the people but by the armed forces, and that is illegal," Thabane said, adding that he will return to his country as soon as his life is safe.
An anonymous Lesotho official told Xinhua that Thabane "had gone to the South African Development Community (SADC)", seeking intervention from SADC.
But the military downplayed the apparent coup, saying it seized two police stations to secure the country, and the situation in the capital is back to normal.
The military said its soldiers had returned to barracks, with peace and calm resumed in Maseru starting from noon.
An army spokesman Captain Ntlele Ntoi said the military "supports the democratically elected government of the day."
Ntoi said the military is empowered to prevent terrorism, internal disorder and threats to essential services.
"As we speak now, the situation in Lesotho, in the capital, is back to normal. It's business as usual," said Ntoi.
Some shops remained closed and daily necessities were out of stock in most shops, a diplomat in Maseru told Xinhua.
The military's actions forced the prime minister to go into hiding in South Africa, the SA Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) said.
However, the prime minister had earlier said he was in South Africa visiting his daughter and would return to Lesotho on Sunday.
The South African government, which has exerted influence in the kingdom, called for restraint.
"We are calling on the commander of the armed forces to return to the barracks and allow the democratically elected government to return to its business," DIRCO spokesperson Clayson Monyela said.
He said the actions by Lesotho's military bore the hallmarks of a coup d'etat, but said, "The situation in Lesotho is still unfolding. No one has claimed to take over government ... so we are monitoring that ... our interest is to see it resolved through peaceful means."
Monyela ruled out the possibility of military intervention right now in case of a coup.
He said military intervention wasn't under consideration at this time.
"We prefer peaceful resolution to any crisis, particularly if it's a political crisis ... Such things become last resorts," he said.
The 15-nation Southern African Development Community will intervene and they are trying to bring all players to the table for talks at this time, according to Monyela.
In March 1998, parliamentary elections in Lesotho resulted in an overwhelming majority for the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy Party, which won 79 out of 80 seats. However, allegations of vote fraud soon surfaced, and after a failed lawsuit by the opposition parties, widespread rioting broke out.
The SADC intervened in an operation codenamed Operation Boleas, led by South Africa through its South African National Defense Force, which sent troops into Lesotho to quell an ensuing coup.