Hopes fade for multi-party peace talks

THE start of a three-day top-level meeting between the South African government and the African National Congress, whose announcement last week was hailed as a breakthrough in negotiations, was overshadowed yesterday by the threats and disruption generated by two of the country's more peripheral political players.

The hope had been that the government-ANC meeting would lead to the rapid resumption of multi-party talks, the crucial first step towards elections for an interim government. But yesterday such hopes faded when the government suspended talks with the Pan-Africanist Congress and fired an unaccustomed broadside against the Inkatha Freedom Party - both of whom the government had planned to meet bilaterally in the coming days.

The meeting with Inkatha is still expected to go ahead. But President F W de Klerk added his voice yesterday to a chorus of disapproval following the announcement on Tuesday by Inkatha's Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi that he proposes to carve out a power- base for himself in an autonomous federal state within the boundaries of what is now Natal province and his KwaZulu homeland.

Mr de Klerk said yesterday that Inkatha's unilateral approach could cause escalating violence. As for the PAC, the government, as well as the ANC, was shocked to learn on Tuesday that the organisation's military wing - the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla) - had claimed responsibility for the murder of two white married couples killed at the weekend when gunmen opened fire on a wine-tasting party at a golf club in King William's Town, in the Eastern Cape.

Speaking from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, the Apla spokesman Johnny Majozi said he found it surprising that 'so much noise and police activity' had been generated as a result of the deaths of only four people. 'There will be more attacks of this nature with more frequency, especially in white areas,' Mr Majozi said.

Yesterday Apla added in another statement that it would launch an attack on the white suburbs for every black person killed by 'vigilantes' - a term commonly used to describe government agents.

Some doubts remained yesterday, however, as to whether Apla - whose armed presence in South Africa is generally reckoned to be insignificant - had actually carried out the golf club killings.

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