By Moabi Phia

Gaborone - Former Botswana president Ketumile Masire will fly on Sunday to Lesotho where he will try to ease political tensions after a disputed parliamentary election.

Masire has been appointed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate next week between parties in the small mountainous kingdom.

A curfew has been imposed in the capital, Maseru, after the homes of three government ministers and an opposition leader were attacked by protesters on June 17. Lesotho's government said this week the perpetrators appeared to be disguised as army personnel.

"Perpetrators are heavily armed with combat weapons and are disguised as members of the Lesotho Defence Force, South African National Defence Force, Lesotho police and some private security companies," Second Lieutenant Tlele Ntoi said in a statement released by the Lesotho Defence Force.

There have been sporadic scuffles between supporters of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and opposition parties after disagreements over the allocation of seats in parliament after the February 17 election.

"The initial discussion of the dialogue was successfully concluded with all parties agreeing on an agenda to be followed at the main dialogue which will start on 25 June 2007 in Maseru, Lesotho," a statement from the SADC said.

The SADC Secretariat said Masire had been appointed to mediate. Masire said he was hopeful Lesotho's crisis would be resolved without bloodshed.

South Africa, the regional power, said on Thursday it was time for "decisive action" to restore stability in Lesotho.

"We do hope we can quickly normalise this situation," Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told a news briefing.

"We call on those who are reverting to violence to halt such behaviour."

Masire, who retired in 1998 after 18 years as Botswana's president, said his main task would be to try to resolve the dispute over 40 parliamentary seats distributed through proportional representation after the election.

Lesotho introduced a mixed electoral system in 2002 to ensure representation for smaller parties after a disputed election in 1998 which almost led to a military coup.

Eighty seats were put up to direct contest and a further 40 were distributed according to how parties fared overall in the vote.

The LCD, led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, won 61 of the directly contested 80 seats but smaller parties have since challenged a deal the LCD made with the smaller National Independent Party which gave the ruling party control of a further 20 of the apportioned seats.

Masire was the facilitator of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue that sought to bring together warring factions in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002, part of a lengthy process which eventually led to a presidential election last year.

In September 1998, 600 South African soldiers and 200 Botswana troops intervened to restore order in Lesotho after a political crisis that nearly unseated Mosisili.