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Rival Factions in Lesotho Agree to Cease-fire

WARRING army factions of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) in Maseru, the capital of a black political nation landlocked by South Africa, agreed to a cease-fire on Jan. 25, following international mediation.

In addition, government spokesman Seeiso Serutla said that the two sides were due to meet that evening for talks expected to last several days.

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Fierce exchanges of mortar and gunfire on Jan. 23 and 24 raged in the capital and the surrounding hills and forced the government to appeal for help. Many foreign nationals have left Maseru.

But South African Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha said on Jan. 24 that South African forces would not intervene. Although military intervention by South Africa is feasible, diplomats say it would set a disastrous political precedent for settling future conflicts in the region.

``To send in armored troops at this stage would mean that we would have less security forces available inside our own country,'' Mr. Botha said.

He added, however, that South African troops were stationed on the Lesotho border to deal with any spillover effect.

The conflict is of concern to the southern African region because of the close links between South Africa and Lesotho. A large Sotho population lives in the South African territory bordering the landlocked kingdom, and nearly half of Lesotho's economically active population is employed in South Africa. Lesotho is totally dependent on South Africa for delivery of goods.

The larger LDF group, which has been bombarding a smaller group of loyalist soldiers from the Makhoayane military base in the capital, appear to owe their allegiance to the opposition Basotho National Party (BNP).

The BNP governed the country with the help of the military until it was ousted in the country's first democratic elections in March last year. The group is demanding a 100 percent pay increase, but some diplomats say that the wage demands are a smoke screen for a political power struggle that holds the threat of a coup d'etat.

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The smaller group of soldiers in the capital are loyal to the ruling Basotholand Congress Party of Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle, a former political exile, who swept an election last March.

Western diplomats say that despite the superior military strength of the rebels, they are unlikely to succeed with a coup because of intense international, South African, and internal resistance to the BNP.

Lesotho has a history of military coups and political instability.

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