Pretoria and ANC reach for a deal

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A COMPROMISE between the South African government and the African National Congress, unlocking the door to a summit between F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, is in prospect today after backroom negotiators agreed on a provisional deal involving, critically, the release of political prisoners.

Hopes that the principals on each side would ratify the deal during discussions yesterday were dashed when the government announced last night that 'some questions' still remained to be resolved. An ANC spokesman spoke of 'last-minute hitches'.

But in principle both leaders have said they are in favour of a summit, the aim of which would be to remove obstacles preventing the resumption of constitutional negotiations. The difficulty has been each side's anxiety not to be seen to capitulate to the other.

The South African cabinet and its ANC equivalent, the National Working Committee, met all day yesterday to pick over the compromise formula agreed on Tuesday night by Roelf Meyer, the minister heading the government's negotiating team, and Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC Secretary-General. If the plan is endorsed during further discussions today, it is expected the summit will be held this weekend.

According to inside sources, Mr Meyer and Mr Ramaphosa hammered out agreement on a phased release of political prisoners, up to 100 of whom would be freed immediately; measures to improve security at the more problematic single men's hostels, Inkatha strongholds in the township violence; and measures, again aimed at Inkatha, to restrain the carrying of weapons.

In an interview last week with the Johannesburg Star, Mr Mandela said he wanted concrete undertakings from Mr de Klerk on these three points before meeting him. .

It is the prisoners' issue that has proved the most intractable in preliminary talks between Mr Meyer and Mr Ramaphosa. The issue was complicated last month by the government's surprise proposal to introduce a new factor into the equation. They said they would release the prisoners on condition that a general amnesty, without prior disclosure, was extended to all parties. This was generally interpreted as a move to grant a blanket pardon to all members of the security forces involved in political crimes.

The police have sought, in turn, to pressure the ANC into accepting the amnesty proposal with the startling announcement last week that they had re- opened investigations into the role of senior ANC leaders in terrorist actions carried out several years before Mr de Klerk came to power.

Also delaying agreement, it was revealed yesterday, was the question of who qualifies as a political prisoner. The single most contentious ANC prisoner still behind bars is Robert McBride, who planted a car bomb in 1986 which killed three innocent civilians and injured 87. His wife, Paula, yesterday denounced what she called the government's hypocrisy: it had released two ANC operatives convicted of a crime which was a carbon-copy of her husband's. 'The difference is that in Robert's case the victims were all white; in the other case they were all black,' she said.

THE Goldstone Commission of Inquiry into the 7 September massacre in South Africa's Ciskei 'homeland' heard yesterday in Pretoria that one Ciskei soldier in the incident was killed by a bullet fired by his own men.