British officers prepare to unite rival SA armies

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A team of 31 British military officers will arrive in South Africa before the end of the month to monitor the integration of the guerrilla army of the African National Congress into the new, but largely white- led, South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

The head of the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), Brigadier Dick Trigger of the Parachute Regiment, arrived ahead of the main party at the weekend. BMATT will remain in South Africa for between two and five years.

While the army will provide the core of the team, the navy and air force are represented. Nine of the 31 officers are scheduled to serve two-year tours. The rest should stay in South Africa for six months.

Brigadier Simon Pack, a Royal Marine who will be monitoring BMATT's progress from Chief of Defence Staff headquarters in London, outlined the team's objectives.

'First of all, everything we will be doing in South Africa will be in support of British foreign policy. As far as HMG is concerned, security underpins much of the future of South Africa. Economic prosperity, for example, depends very greatly on strong security within the country.'

Evidence that democracy alone will not eradicate violence in South Africa was provided yesterday in Thokoza, south-east of Johannesburg, when a rifleman of the SANDF was shot dead, apparently by four Inkatha gunmen. The killing followed the massacre of 12 youths, shot dead with AK-47 rifles in the same township on Friday

An indication of the problems BMATT will encounter was provided last week, when 150 former members of the ANC's Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation) guerrilla army went on the rampage at their base outside Pretoria. They were complaining about inadequate pay. Alarm bells also rang yesterday when 200 youths, demanding to join the SANDF, fired shots and smashed a window outside the office of the ANC in Durban.

Brigadier Pack said that the general staff of the old South African Defence Force were anxious to maintain high professional standards. Umkhonto recognised the need to transform themselves into a conventional force.

'Because both parties have been at odds for a very long time, inevitable suspicions will arise during the integration process. We were chosen to assist because we are regarded, above all, as honest brokers.'

BMATT's tasks will be divided into two categories: 'adjudication' and 'validation'. Adjudication means adopting the role of referee when the two sides cannot agree - for example, should disagreement arise over the capacity of a new recruit to take part in a training course. Validation means ensuring that the training required to convert the Umkhonto forces, expected to be at least 16,000-strong, into conventional soldiers is in line with international standards.

The brigadier said he had met representatives of all parties and was struck by the speed with they had reached a clear unanimity of purpose. 'I'd be very surprised,' he said, 'if the integration process did not succeed completely.'