S African `bombers' break out of jail

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The Independent Online


South African police conducted a desperate manhunt yesterday to track down four right-wing militants who broke out of a jail near Johannesburg at the weekend.

The four men - all suspected of involvement in a bloody bombing campaign on the eve of the country's historic all-race 1994 elections - had sawn through two iron-grille gates and smashed down a steel-bolted door to make their escape.

The audacious breakout, less than three weeks before judgment was to be announced in their cases, capped what appeared to be a heady weekend for South Africa's extreme right.

On Saturday, just hours before the escape was announced, Eugene Terre'Blanche, the fire-breathing leader of the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), emerged from months in the political wilderness to announce that the extreme right was alive and well and was planning "resistance" against the government of President Nelson Mandela.

"Peace is not coming, President Mandela," he told a crowd of belligerent supporters in Germinston, east of Johannesburg. "We are going on with the struggle and we will never ever accept this regime. Never."

He reiterated the right-wing call for a white homeland in South Africa, a move long rejected as unacceptable by Mr Mandela. Mr Terre'Blanche, dressed in black fatigues, also suggested that if the government refused to release the bombing suspects then his forces would go in and get them.

Before the speech, Mr Terre' Blanche rode a black horse at the head of a parade of at least 200 khaki-clad members through the town centre as crowds and police and soldiers watched.

The AWB's blundering mock martial antics and the pre-election bombing campaign are today widely regarded as an embarrassment by all but the most unhinged. And while Mr Terre'Blanche and his band of gun-toting farmers are not widely viewed as a significant threat to Mr Mandela's government, there are many active police and military men who are sympathetic to the right-wing cause. The authorities announced yesterday that they were investigating the possibility that the escape of the four suspected bombers was accomplished with inside help.

The four fugitives were among 18 right-wingers charged with involvement in the bombing spree which killed 21 people.