Train terror starts again in S Africa: After 12-month lull, gunmen kill five commuters in early-morning attack

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TRAIN terrorism, a uniquely South African phenomenon that had largely disappeared in the past year, re- emerged yesterday when unknown gunmen opened fire inside a railway carriage, killing five and wounding nine.

The sinister rebirth of a style of killing that claimed more than 300 lives in the two-year period up to July last year came at the end of a week that saw 142 politically-related deaths in Katlehong and neighbouring Tokoza, and at least another 30 elsewhere in the country. Katlehong was reported quiet after the police and army, curiously absent earlier in the week, were deployed in massive numbers in the township on Thursday morning. Yesterday, mechanised infantry and light armoured units were heading for townships.

Responding to the train attack, which took place early in the morning when black commuters were on their way to Johannesburg to work, a police spokesman remarked: 'It might well be that the security force presence in areas of unrest is making life difficult for the perpetrators of violence. Perhaps they now have to look for easier targets.'

An eyewitness said the passengers in the carriage were singing political songs when the gunmen burst in, ordered the women to lie down and shot the men. 'They didn't waste time, they just started to shoot,' she said.

According to the Johannesburg- based Human Rights Commission, more than 1,000 train attacks took place between July 1990 and July 1992. The train killings, described once by a police colonel as containing 'high terror value', virtually stopped after this period. This followed the signing of a 'train accord' between the police and ANC-allied organisations which resulted in the adoption of stepped-up security measures.

'I was just saying to a friend the other day,' an ANC spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, said yesterday, 'that the trains were the one area of violence where we took pride in having achieved something.'

Sentiments, these, often echoed by the police themselves, whose record otherwise in tracking down the killers shows few successes. Only 21 people have been charged in total in connection with the train attacks since 1990, and in 12 of those cases charges were later withdrawn. Only one case ended in a conviction. All those arrested were members of Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party.

The police, besides, failed to respond decisively to two powerful and highly-publicised allegations concerning the identity of the train gunmen. In July 1991 a former member of an army special forces regiment composed almost entirely of recruits from neighbouring African countries said members of his unit had taken part in some of the train massacres.

The police general assigned to investigate the charge was later found by a Supreme Court judge to have attempted to cover up security force involvement in a massacre in Natal province.

In November last year the Johannesburg Sunday Star carried an interview with British-born Bruce Anderson, then a senior official of the Inkatha Freedom Party, in which he said he used to give 'pep talks' to Inkatha members based in the township hostels before they went on 'missions', train killings included, for which they received payment.

In the interview, Mr Anderson said the train attacks formed part of a broader conspiracy orchestrated by military intelligence to stop the ANC from taking power. He said Inkatha's most prominent leader in Johannesburg, Themba Khoza, was on the military intelligence payroll. No official action is known to have been taken on Mr Anderson's allegations.

The government has declared the Transvaal town of Schweize-Reneke an unrest area, ahead of the granting of the freedom of the town to the neo- Nazi Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) today, Reuter reports.

Also today, blacks are similarly to honour the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), in a township on the white town's outskirts.