AWB invasion of talks puts De Klerk on the spot: Awkward questions are being asked, John Carlin writes from Johannesburg

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT F W de Klerk was under pressure yesterday to provide answers to two critical questions following the fiasco on Friday when right- wing extremists, in what amounted to an armed insurrection, stormed the building where South Africa's leading political parties have been engaged for 18 months in constitutional negotiations.

The first question is whether the President has control over his security forces. The second is whether he sincerely believes, as he professes to do, that the law must be applied with equal force against whites and blacks.

The answers will provide significant clues as to whether, in a third question on people's lips yesterday, peaceful democratic change remains a viable option in South Africa.

Those posing the questions include Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, most other South African political parties, the local press and international peace observers, all of whom have publicly deplored the outrage and called for swift justice. 'The fact that law-enforcement agencies appeared either unable or unwilling to contain the incident is a particularly disturbing feature of Friday's events,' the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Organisation of African Unity said in a joint statement.

In fact the police stood by and watched as, first, 2,000 heavily armed right-extremists marched into the compound of Johannesburg's World Trade Centre and, second, several hundred stormed into the building itself, seizing possession of the main negotiating chamber. The police explanation was that had they opened fire they would have provoked a bloodbath.

The Johannesburg Sunday Times, in an editorial yesterday, said this argument was acceptable enough. 'The fault lay not with the policemen on the spot but with the command structures' that failed to prepare adequately for the demonstration. The newspaper said that General Johan van der Merwe, South Africa's Commissioner of Police, should resign.

Mr de Klerk, whose track record betrays a hesitance to confront the higher echelons of the security forces, has promised that arrests will be made. The police said on Saturday, however, that this would be very difficult, as a number of demonstrators had given the police false names and addresses.

Mr Mandela, after speaking with Mr de Klerk on the telephone, said on Saturday night: 'What he told me doesn't arouse much hope for immediate arrests.'

The position of the ANC, which said it would carry out a counter-protest nationwide on Thursday, is that the leaders present at the demonstration should be arrested - namely Eugene Terre-Blanche of the AWB (Afrikaner Resistance Movement), the former chief of the South African Defence Force, General Constand Viljoen, and the Conservative Party's leader, Ferdi Hartzenberg.

Only last month the police swooped on the entire leadership of the radical Pan-Africanist Congress on suspicion that they were involved in attacks on whites.