EC envoys aim to get Pretoria and ANC talking

DOUGLAS HURD heads a European Community foreign ministers' delegation to Johannesburg today, seeking to prod the South African government and African National Congress into resuming negotiations. Although talks stalled over constitutional issues, the ministers' attention will focus on the unremitting political violence that has arisen as the principal obstacle to further discussions.

Before leaving Heathrow airport yesterday the Foreign Secretary said dialogue was the only way forward for South Africa.

The ministers are expected to propose that the EC send 10 to 20 observers to help bolster South Africa's National Peace Accord, signed a year ago by the government and opposition groups. They would co-ordinate their activities with up to 50 United Nations observers. The ministers will also offer to help South Africa with training its police force.

A new batch of allegations of state complicity in killings and other unrest - from a surge in deaths in police detention to revelations by a former Defence Force colonel of plans for a military coup - has piled pressure on the South African government to be seen to crack down. Ahead of the two-day visit by Mr Hurd, and his counterparts from Portugal and Denmark, Pretoria announced a purge of senior police officers unable to adapt to South Africa's new political realities.

But EC sources say the ministers will want to know why the government has so far failed to implement the far-reaching recommendations of the Goldstone commission into political violence, including reform of the single-sex hostels so often at the heart of the killing. In a phone conversation with South Africa's Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, Mr Hurd has already asked for an explanation of claims by a former Defence Force colonel, Gert Hugo, that top military officers have laid plans for a coup.

The ministers' itinerary reflects the emphasis on the violence. It includes meetings with the Goldstone commission, the National Peace Secretariat and a visit to Johannesburg's squalid Alexandra township, scene of some of the worst attacks from hostels.

Further criticism of the security forces has come this week from Jonathan Gluckman, the pathologist who in July threw open the files on nearly 200 suspicious deaths in police custody. He says he is 'utterly shocked' to discover a three- to four-fold increase in such deaths since he made his revelations. Among the 15 people Dr Gluckman says are known to have died while under arrest in the past month is a man whom the police said had been killed in a shoot-out but who, it emerged, was sitting in the back of a police car when he died. 'There's a great injury on the side of his face caused by a shotgun (blast) passing through the whole upper part of the head, breaking the man's neck,' the pathologist said.

The Law and Order Minister, Hernus Kriel, has brushed off Dr Gluckman's allegations, saying South Africa's record on deaths in police custody is no worse than in other countries. The results of an official inquiry are due within days, with all the indications that the government intends to discredit the pathologist as a recent convert to its opponents by, among other things, questioning why he never made his assertions at inquest hearings. Dr Gluckman says that whenever his evidence raised doubts about police actions he was not called to testify.