Britain warns Lesotho's king it will cut aid

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN yesterday warned the King of Lesotho that it would have to 'reconsider' its aid programme unless he reinstated the elected government in the former British protectorate, writes Annika Savill.

The Foreign Office said the British Government was 'deeply concerned by the reports that King Letsie III has declared that parts of the Lesotho Constitution are to be suspended and the democratically elected parliament and government dissolved.'

The uncharacteristically sharp warning came two days after the King went on the radio at dawn to announce he was dissolving the government - Lesotho's first democratically elected administration in more than 20 years. The move is part of his plan to hand the country back to his father, who was deposed in a military coup in 1990.

The government of Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle, denounced the move as illegal. On Thursday the Foreign Minister, Qhobbela Molapo, said the government was still in control.

The British threat also came as Nelson Mandela ruled out an immediate military role for his country in Lesotho, even though South Africa entirely surrounds the mountain kingdom. Mr Mandela said he would hold a meeting with two other leaders in the region - Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Quett Masire of Botswana - to seek a solution to the crisis.

But, he added: 'It's premature at the moment to even think in terms of any kind of military intervention . . . it will depend on developments there in the coming days.'

Four people were killed outside the King's palace on Wednesday during demonstrations in support of Mr Mokhehle. The Foreign Office said yesterday: 'We deeply regret the loss of life on August 17 . . . If unlawful measures are taken to overthrow the democratically elected government, Britain would be obliged to reconsider its programme of assistance in Lesotho and there would be damaging repercussions for our bilateral relations with the country.' Britain's aid to Lesotho totals just over pounds 10m this year.