Colonel lived life of luxury in cell

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The Independent Online
Johannesburg - Prison conditions have never been among South Africa's strong points. Yet the suspected linchpin of the notorious "Third Force", which terrorised campaigners for majority rule and township dwellers in the run-up to last April's general elections, wanted for nothing behind bars, writes Karl Maier.

Colonel Eugene de Kock, who faces 106 charges of murder, kidnapping, fraud and theft when his trial opens on 20 February, was held at Adriaan Vlok pol-ice station in Verwoerdburg after being arrested seven months ago. He enjoyed a television, video reco r der, and a cellular telephone to call parliament, reporters and Portugal, where his wife Audrey and two sons are believed to be living.

Friends came over for supper, and visitors, some police officers, queued to see him. On times, he left the jail to attend social functions at a rugby club.

The telephone allowed him to transfer about £180,000 from his Swiss bank account. He also made calls to Chief Mangosuthu's Inkatha Freedom Party, with which Third Force members in the security forces were alleged to have worked to attack supporters of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. Colonel de Kock even mounted an alarm system, saying someone had tried to get into his cell one night.

The Colonel was enjoying what one police lieutenant said, with great understatement in an affidavit, "greater freedom of movement and more privileges than an awaiting-trial prisoner would, in my experience, normally have".

However, his life of luxury ended on 8 December when it was discovered by Captain Kobus Swartz. Colonel de Kock was transferred to Pretoria Central Prison, visits are limited, and he can telephone only from a pay phone after a prison officer has dialled the number.

He is not allowed alcohol, but can keep a television, as long as it is battery powered. His new cell does not have electricity.