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Lesotho Prime Minister alleges army coup attempt, seeks help from South Africa

By Laura Smith-Spark and Pierre Meilhan, CNN
updated 7:52 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Thomas Thabane, Prime Minister of Lesotho, addresses the 68th U.N. General Assembly on September 26, 2013.
Thomas Thabane, Prime Minister of Lesotho, addresses the 68th U.N. General Assembly on September 26, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lesotho is a mountainous nation of 2 million landlocked by South Africa
  • Prime Minister Thomas Thabane says an attempted coup has taken place
  • He tells a South African broadcaster that he fled because the military was looking for him

(CNN) -- An attempted military coup took place in the remote and mountainous nation of Lesotho on Saturday, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said in an interview aired by South African broadcaster eNCA.

"In my political life, it was not the first time that I saw this kind of activity by the Lesotho army," Thabane said. A lot of effort has been made to reform the military and to "make it a normal army that is subject to the civilian authority," he said.

Sometimes referred to as the "Kingdom of the Sky," Lesotho is completely landlocked by South Africa and is the only country in the world where all of the land lies above 1,000 meters.

It has a population of nearly 2 million and covers an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Maryland, according to the World Factbook.

The Lesotho government is seeking the assistance of the South African government and other neighboring states, Thabane said.

The Prime Minister said that since the Lesotho military was looking for him, he decided "to get out of the way," and fled to an unknown location.

He told the broadcaster he would not resign.

"We can't have coups d'etat in 2014. If there are political problems people must sit (down) and talk," said Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for the South African Foreign Ministry.

Monyela said that the Lesotho military's actions "bear the hallmarks of a coup d'├ętat."

Kamalesh Sharma, secretary-general of the Commonwealth of Nations, condemned the reported coup attempt and urged the military in Lesotho to respect civilian authority, constitutional order and the rule of law.

"There is zero tolerance in the Commonwealth of any unconstitutional overthrow of an elected government," he said in a statement. "Democracy and the rule of law are central tenets of our association ... and any action to subvert constitutional civilian rule is unacceptable."

Lesotho has been independent of the United Kingdom since 1966, but continues on as a member of the 53-nation Commonwealth.

Thabane became Prime Minister in 2012, when he formed the kingdom's first coalition government, according to the CIA World Factbook. Elections are next due in 2017.

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said the United States "is deeply concerned by clashes between security forces today in Lesotho." Psaki called upon all parties to "remain committed to a peaceful political dialogue and to follow democratic processes" in order to resolve the conflict.

Lesotho is known for its "herd boys," children as young as 5 who tend flocks of cattle in remote locations and often miss out on education. Prince Harry established a charity, Sentebale, to help the country meet educational challenges.

CNN's Nana Karikari-apau and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.

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