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S. African judge: police `fabricated' version of events at Langa

Police conduct in South Africa has come under the spotlight as continuing black unrest and guerrilla attacks force the police into an increasingly conspicuous role. Judge Donald Kannemeyer, who conducted a judicial inquiry into the March 21 killing of 20 blacks by police gunfire at Langa, in the eastern Cape Province, said the police bear a major responsibility for the shootings. He said the police account of the killings was ``fabricated.''

As Kannemeyer's report was being presented to Parliament on Tuesday, police were battling to contain unrest in a number of black townships across South Africa.

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And while the nation pondered the implications of Kannemeyer's report, guerrillas early yesterday lobbed grenades into the homes of two members of Parliament in Cape Town and at a nearby police station.

This is the first time MPs have been the target of attacks by guerrilla squads. Both MPs are members of the Colored (people of mixed race descent) chamber in South Africa's new tri-cameral parliament.

One of the MPs, Luwellyn Landers, recently made a deputy cabinet minister, was injured in the attack.

Kannemeyer's report criticizes the police for issuing shotguns and other lethal arms as a matter of ``deliberate policy'' rather than anti-riot gear, such as birdshot, rubber bullets, and tear gas.

The judge further blamed police for creating confusion and resentment among blacks by banning and postponing funerals of earlier victims of black unrest and then again banning the rescheduled funerals.

Kannemeyer said that ``not only was the confusion caused by the conflicting orders a likely source of frustration and resentment, but the final [banning] order was obtained in an improper way.''

He was particularly critical of Capt. Andre Goosen, of the security police, labeling as ``devious'' they way in which Goosen obtained the second banning order.

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Kannemeyer was also sharply critical of the behavior of police under the command of warrant officer Jacobus Pentz. When his patrol met the crowd before it marched to the funeral, police taunted blacks, challenging them to throw stones, the inquiry found. In so doing police showed a ``serious lack of discipline.''

He rejected police claims that they were showered with a ``rain of stones'' before they opened fire. Kannemeyer also characterized as exaggerated descriptions of the weapons carried by the crowd.

However, Kannemeyer ruled that the officer in charge, Lt. John Fouche, could not be blamed for his decision to give the order to fire. He faced an ``awesome decision,'' and, with the information he had at the time, believed that the safety of the residents of the white town of Uitenhage and the lives of his men were at risk.

The report was markedly more critical of police than those of previous judicial inquiries into the 1976-77 Soweto rebellion (which claimed 575 lives) or the Sharpeville shooting of 1960.

Most opposition parties have insisted that the Minister of Law and Order, Louis Le Grange, resign. But there are no signs yet that he will.

Mr. Le Grange has set up a police board of inquiry.

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