Mandela defuses troops protest

PRETORIA - President Nelson Mandela personally persuaded hundreds of former ANC guerrillas to return to barracks on Friday night after they marched from an army camp to Pretoria to demand equal rights and pay in the new South African army.

The protesting men arrived after dark, having marched 30 miles to Pretoria. They complained about problems surrounding their integration into the new army, and said the ANC had failed to pay them as promised for service outside the country during the anti-apartheid struggle.

The ANC leader was greeted with cheers from the soldiers of 'Madiba, Madiba', President Mandela's affectionate nickname. Thousands of former Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) guerrillas are being integrated into the unified military along with the mainly-white officered soldiers who served past apartheid governments and those of the black homelands which were reincorporated into South Africa proper after the April all- race elections which brought the ANC to power.

Mr Mandela, who came out on to the lawns of his Pretoria offices and spoke to the protesters at 10.15pm, about an hour after they arrived, said that he hoped to meet officials of the defence department and the ANC tomorrow to discuss the guerrillas' grievances.

'It must be remembered that these men and women were involved in the liberation struggle,' Mr Mandela told reporters. 'They walked 45 kilometres, you know.' Mr Mandela later arranged for army trucks to transport the protesters back to their base, and ordered that they be fed.

A spokesman for the protesters, Solomon Zitho, said the ex-guerrillas in training for the new army 'do not enjoy the same status' as soldiers who had trained with the old South African army. He said the ex-guerrillas needed homes and other help in re-establishing themselves in the community after years in exile. - Agencies