SA troops kill children in Transkei raid

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IN A grisly reminder of times past, South African Defence Force (SADF) commandos killed two children aged 12 and three teenagers yesterday in a dawn raid - authorised by President F W de Klerk - on a house in the Transkei 'homeland'.

No less vivid a reminder was provided at a government press conference in Pretoria yesterday afternoon where the Minister of Justice and Defence, Kobie Coetsee, and three generals strove to justify the mission, describing it as a success.

The government, which claimed the victims had resisted but admitted none had opened fire, alleged the house was a base used by the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), the military wing of the radical Pan-Africanist Congress. Apla allegedly carried out a number of racist killings, with whites as their victims, early this year.

According to PAC and police sources in the Transkei - a sovereign state under South Africa's present constitution - the five victims were killed in their beds. The PAC deputy president, Jonhson Mlambo, denied that the house in Umtata, the Transkei capital, had been used by Apla. But he confirmed the house belonged to a PAC member, Sicelo Mpendulo. He said three of Mr Mpendulo's children, 16- year-old twins Sadat and Samora, and their 12-year-old brother, Mziwandile, were killed along with their two cousins, Tando, 19, and Sxeshe, 12.

The children, who were due to go to school yesterday morning, had been shot in the head by soldiers using Uzi sub-machine-guns fixed with silencers, Mr Mlambo claimed. The Transkei police said they found 78 cartridge cases in the house.

According to a statement released at the start of yesterday's press conference in Pretoria, Mr de Klerk and senior ministers authorised the SADF 'to launch a limited strike . . . against a verified Apla facility'.

The SADF's instructions 'were, if possible, to avoid loss of life. Unfortunately, the unit involved did not succeed in this regard because the men in the facility were armed and offered resistance.'

One of the first questions Mr Coetsee fielded was inspired by reports from Umtata that residents were saying there had been no difference between yesterday's strike and the massacre in July by unknown gunmen in a Cape Town church. What was the moral difference between SADF and Apla murder?

'It's a vast difference,' he explained. 'This was to take pre-emptive steps against certain people who deliberately kill without warning.' Besides, he explained, Apla had refused to suspend its armed struggle and to take part in negotiations.

But in fact, as another reporter pointed out, Apla agreed only last week to hold talks with the government later this month. Could the cross-border raid be described as a success politically? 'The question,' Mr Coetsee replied, 'is whether these actions were taken in the best interest of the country's citizens: this mission meets the test.'

General Georg Meiring, the chief of the army, asked to describe the precise nature of the resistance the troops - a unit of 12 - had encountered, first said the people in the house had 'brandished weapons'. Pressed further, he said: 'As far as we know no shots were actually fired by the incumbents of the house.'

NEW YORK - The UN General Assembly lifted almost all its remaining economic sanctions against South Africa yesterday, Reuter reports. It also decided to scrap an oil embargo as soon as South Africa's Transitional Executive Council becomes operational. That could happen as early as next month.