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Lesotho Leader Says S. African Blockade Is Aimed at His Ouster

January 20, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan of the small mountain kingdom of Lesotho accused South Africa on Sunday of trying to oust him from power by blockading his country, subverting its army and civil service and fomenting recent political unrest, even coup rumors.

Jonathan said that Lesotho, a landlocked area surrounded by South Africa, is critically short of fuel, industrial raw materials, some medicine and many food products because of an economic blockade begun nearly three weeks ago.

"We are being strangled by South Africa, which will not allow anything in or out," he said in his capital of Maseru. "What do they want in Pretoria--a million and a half starving, dying people here?"

Jonathan, 71, a traditional chief who has ruled the ministate for 20 years and who has been criticized as an autocrat, renewed appeals for British and U.S. help.

"I am surprised Britain and America have not so far come to our assistance materially because they did go to help Berlin," he told journalists. "That's what I am expecting--an airlift like that in Berlin. The situation here is that serious."

London and Washington have called on Pretoria to ease the blockade but have been told that South Africa believes its security is at stake because of the alleged use of Lesotho as a base by the guerrilla African National Congress.

"South Africa won't ease its restrictions unless I send back South African refugees who belong to the African National Congress," Jonathan said, "and that I won't--absolutely won't. . . . So, I am waiting for replies from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan."

Cuba's foreign minister arrived in Maseru on an unannounced visit over the weekend, but Jonathan said Lesotho will "stick to its traditional friends, Britain and America," and only if they failed his country would he "go to Cuba, China, North Korea and other friends for food, for weapons, for everything."

He said that Lesotho's compromise proposal to South Africa was the immediate transfer to third countries of all South Africans fleeing here to escape apartheid. But Pretoria has insisted on its own terms for reopening the border.

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