De Klerk Resists Calls to Reopen Death Squad Inquiry

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Frederik de Klerk is facing growing pressure to curb the excesses of his security forces and reestablish the rule of law in South Africa.

He is also facing specific calls to reopen a probe into the operation of police death squads after earlier findings that they did not exist were discredited in a recent court ruling against a senior police officer.

But Mr. De Klerk is resisting the pressures.

"It appears to be the one area that he is not prepared to negotiate," says Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, co-director of the pro-democracy Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa.

In his speech at the opening of Parliament last week - in which he announced the scrapping of apartheid laws - De Klerk failed to mention the review of security legislation. Nor did he to refer to the court finding in a libel action against Gen. Lothar Neethling, a forensics expert in the South African police.

In that case the implication of the judge's ruling was to repudiate the Harms Commission finding - which had found no evidence of the existence of the hit squads - and to expose General Neethling as having lied to the court. De Klerk had set up the commission to inquire into media allegations of police death squads. The police have appealed the ruling and refused to act against Neethling until the outcome of the appeal.

Lawyers, politicians, and human rights groups have demanded that De Klerk open a new inquiry. But he has maintained silence on the issue.

"By and large our security forces are doing an excellent job and do not deserve the vilification to which they are subjected from many quarters," De Klerk said last week. "If the authority and integrity of our police are undermined, all of us will have to pay a heavy price."

But Adriaan Vlok, the Law and Order Minister, said a rigorous program of reeducation was under way within the police force. …