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Mandela discusses amnesty with right

NELSON MANDELA, risking the first serious controversy of his presidency, yesterday met South Africa's far right to discuss granting pardons to the bombers who killed 21 people in the run-up to last month's elections. Driven by the imperative to reconcile all South Africans, Mr Mandela held talks with the leader of the far- right Conservative Party (CP), Ferdi Hartzenberg.

The agenda was dominated by the plight of the 34 supporters of Eugene Terreblanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) who have been arrested in connection with the bombing campaign. Mr Mandela said after the meeting that the question of amnesty for the right-wing terrorists would be discussed further by Mr Hartzenberg and the Minister of Justice, Dullah Omar.

A presidential spokesman said it would be premature to conclude that any finality had been reached on the issue yet but Mr Hartzenberg, whose main bargaining card is the prospect of further right- wing violence, declared himself pleased. 'Procedures have been put in place to make progress and I'm optimistic there is no need for violence to achieve results,' he told reporters after yesterday's meeting in Pretoria.

When Mr Hartzenberg spoke of 'procedures' he referred also to a commitment on the part of Mr Mandela to begin tripartite negotiations with the CP (which did not take part in the elections) and the more moderate Freedom Front (which did), to examine proposals for an Afrikaner homeland.

The Johannesburg Star said in an editorial yesterday that talks with the far right were a good thing in principle but not if it meant 'rendering democracy hostage to the whims of a tiny minority'. The cause of the far right should not be dignified with a status it did not deserve.

Mr Mandela, who spoke once more yesterday of the need 'to heal the wounds of the past', has already expressed his government's intention to extend indemnity to all those who committed political crimes before December last year. Mr Omar is preparing legislation to that effect.

Mr Hartzenberg's objective when he meets Mr Omar will be to persuade him to wipe the slate clean up to the present day.

Brian Currin, the chairman of Lawyers for Human Rights, wrote a letter to Mr Mandela yesterday imploring him not to give the CP leader the satisfaction he seeks.' In our view this is untenable,' Mr Currin said. 'To let off the bombers would be to promote anarchy more than anything else. The time has come to try and foster some law and order and the line has to be drawn now. It's not in the interests of the country to do deals with discredited Rambo maniacs like Terreblanche and his fanatics who constitute a fraction of 1 per cent of the total population.'