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De Klerk and Mandela to meet today

PRESIDENT FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela are to hold their long-awaited summit in Johannesburg this morning to ratify a deal worked out by government and African National Congress negotiators on the release of political prisoners, 150 of whom will be out this weekend, and on measures to contain political violence.

The summit is expected to clear the way for a resumption of constitutional negotiations, broken off on 23 June by the ANC after the Boipatong massacre. The ANC issued a list of demands then which it said had to be met before it resumed talks about the country's future. A compromise was reached on Thursday night after two weeks of bargaining.

In a joint statement yesterday the government and the ANC said their leaders would meet at 10.30 this morning at the World Trade Centre, near Johannesburg's Jan Smuts Airport. It was here that the two last met on 16 May, when the Convention for a Democratic South Africa multi-party talks collapsed after failure to reach agreement on the mechanisms to frame a new constitution.

The ANC's chief negotiator, the secretary-general, Cyril Ramaphosa, last night said the release of the 150 prisoners had started yesterday and would end tomorrow. The ANC had a list of more than 550 prisoners who 'had taken up the struggle against apartheid', all of whom he said would be released in stages between now and 15 November. The significance of the breakthrough, Mr Ramaphosa said, was that Pretoria had accepted that political prisoners did indeed remain in jail, having claimed last year that all had been released. 'Most importantly, the government has been compelled to drop the linkage it was attempting to make between the release of political prisoners and an amnesty for state officials implicated in high crimes such as murder and incitement to murder.'

But Mr de Klerk, speaking yesterday at the National Party congress in Natal province, indicated that he would press ahead with plans for a general amnesty. 'We must close the book on the past, not selectively but fully. I hope the country will understand that we should not end up in a debate on this issue but that the ground must be levelled and the sting of conflict removed.'

Particularly distressing to the Natal party faithful was news that the government, having initially dug in its heels, had bowed to an ANC demand for the release of three political prisoners jailed and originally sentenced to death for killing, between them, nine white people. In an attempt at a face-saving solution, the government has granted paroles to Robert McBride, Mthetheleli Mncube and Mzondeleli Nondula. The three men, all members of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, are to be freed on Monday.

A compromise has also been reached on ANC demands for added security around the single-men's hostels in the black townships and for a ban on the carrying of dangerous weapons. It will be of interest today to learn from Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela how exactly they resolved two issues particularly sensitive to the government's most powerful black ally, the Inkatha Freedom Party. On Thursday Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Inkatha leader, warned that his Zulu supporters would not tolerate a denial of their manly right to carry weapons.

The original ANC demands which appear to have been set aside altogether during the pre-summit negotiations concern the sensitive question of the security forces. In its 23 June statement the ANC said the government should 'immediately' terminate all covert operations, disband all special- forces groupings and suspend and prosecute officers involved in political violence. No suggestion has emerged that these demands have been met.