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Pretoria agrees to observers for strike

THE South African government, moderating its position on international involvement in the country's internal affairs, agreed yesterday to a proposal for the United Nations to send a team of observers next week to oversee a week-long 'mass action' campaign planned by the African National Congress and its trade union allies.

Pik Botha, the South African Foreign Minister, said yesterday in Pretoria that President F W de Klerk had no objection to UN observers monitoring the week of protest, which will include a two- day general strike starting on Monday.

Mr de Klerk believed that if the UN sent observers to South Africa for the mass action campaign, 'there should be enough observers to be present in the major metropolitan areas of South Africa', Mr Botha said. The observers should enjoy freedom of movement, so that the UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, remained fully informed of the progress of the campaign and of any resulting incidents.

According to Mr Botha, Cyrus Vance, the United Nations special envoy, told Mr de Klerk in a meeting yesterday he was concerned that the mass action campaign might generate a new spiral of political violence and urged him to do all in his power to stave off such an eventuality.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC Secretary-General, confirmed yesterday evening that the UN had agreed 'in principle' to such a mission but that the details would be discussed later in the night in a telephone conversation with Mr Boutros-Ghali.

The proposal, initiated by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), received a rapid response owing to the presence in South Africa of Mr Vance, who achieved another breakthrough earlier in the week, it emerged yesterday, when he persuaded an ANC delegation to meet the government on the question of political prisoners.

Mr Vance, who is due to return to New York today after a 10-day fact-finding mission, managed to persuade the ANC to break its moratorium, imposed six weeks ago, on all contact with the government. On Tuesday the ANC's director of international affairs, Thabo Mbeki, met Mr Botha to discuss the release of more than 400 political prisoners.

Mr Ramaphosa, who reaffirmed that the prisoners issue remained a stumbling block to the resumption of constitutional negotiations, confirmed yesterday that the meeting had taken place at the express bidding of Mr Vance.

'The visit by the UN special representative, Mr Cyrus Vance, has facilitated contact between the ANC and the government to ensure the release of all remaining political prisoners on the basis that the government understood and accepted the need for this matter to be finalised immediately,' Mr Ramaphosa said.

'It is our view,' he added, 'that all political prisoners should be released before Mr Vance returns to New York.'

Mr Vance told reporters in Pretoria after meeting Mr de Klerk that he hoped to hand a report next week to Mr Boutros-Ghali, with recommendations on how to end the violence and break the political deadlock in South Africa.