About 1,000 Lesotho soldiers returned to their barracks Saturday following days of clashes with South African troops sent in to quell a military revolt in the mountainous kingdom.
South African Col. Jorrie Jordaan told Lesotho troops to return to duty by Monday and to turn in their weapons. He said intervention troops would hunt for any soldiers who didn't appear.The Lesotho military consists of about 2,000 soldiers, so Saturday's return constitutes roughly half the army. But it was unclear how many members of the force had actually participated in the rebellion, and how many simply resisted when foreign troops intervened.
Earlier this week, South Africa and nearby Botswana sent about 1,000 troops into Lesotho, a poor country of 2 million people surrounded by South African territory, after the government requested help dealing with an army mutiny and crippling strikes.
South Africa's first peacekeeping mission since apartheid became a debacle when the force arrived without advance warning. Believing they were being invaded, both loyalist and mutinous Lesotho soldiers turned their guns on the South Africans.
Many of the soldiers who returned to headquarters expressed pride in their actions during the intervention, in which about 80 people, including at least eight South African soldiers, were killed.
Lesotho soldiers eyed with scorn the South Africans guarding them in cannon-mounted armored vehicles. "They have armored cars and helicopters, but they're not good soldiers," one scoffed.
South African troops frisked the returning soldiers, most in civilian clothes, and treated them warily - neither as rebels, comrades, nor prisoners of war.
Speaking behind a barred mess hall window, Pvt. Harari Maziboko said he felt more like a prisoner. "When I arrived here, I had to fill out a prisoner of war form saying what unit I belonged to," he said.
Lesotho Brigadier Anthony Thibeli told his fellow soldiers to "stow away your dignity and work in peace."
Although the capital and its outskirts were calm for the second straight day, Lesotho's political stalemate continued, with Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili - who requested the intervention - refusing to negotiate with opponents who say May's elections were rigged.
South Africa beefed up its deployment of 800 soldiers by sending in 450 more soldiers on Saturday, joint task force commander Col. Robbie Hartslief told the Sunday Times, a Johannesburg newspaper. Botswana sent in 200 soldiers on Wednesday.
South African troops fanned out across Lesotho to halt looting that began hours after they crossed the border Tuesday.
With at least 80 percent of Maseru's shops in ashes, Energy Minister Monyane Moleleki estimated it would take up to four years to repair the damage. Thousands of people have crossed the nearby South African border to buy supplies.
During this week's chaos, the king - historically a voice of unity - was silenced. The prime minister barred King Letsie III from addressing the nation on the radio Friday after the monarch submitted his prepared remarks.