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Maseru braced for new battles

MASERU (Reuter) - Lesotho's cabinet held a crisis session yesterday during a lull in fighting between rival army factions in the kingdom, government sources said. The capital, Maseru, was tense in anticipation of renewed battles but businesses were open.

The lull was holding after more than 12 hours, but government and diplomatic sources expected fresh clashes. 'There is a break . . . but both sides are still dug in and one side or the other will renew the attack,' one said.

Five soldiers have been killed since fighting began 10 days ago. At least two soldiers were killed and four civilians wounded on Sunday when the two sides traded artillery and mortar fire across the outskirts of the city.

The cabinet met after the Prime Minister, Ntsu Mokhehle, appeared to have shifted his ground over a request for South African military intervention to end the crisis which has shaken his 10-month-old government.

The South African Foreign Ministry said the Lesotho government had requested military intervention, but Mr Mokhehle said this was only an option and nothing had yet been decided.

The fighting involves about 600 men from a barracks near the airport south-east of the city and 150 men from a reconnaissance support company based at the Defence Force headquarters barracks nearer Maseru. Government officials were unable the explain the cause of the feud.