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Disclosures of Covert Military Activities Weaken De Klerk in S. African Impasse

REVELATIONS by a South African judge that top military officers approved a campaign to discredit the African National Congress have damaged President Frederik de Klerk's waning credibility and could push him into an early deal on an interim government, political analysts and diplomats say.

The disclosures provide the first irrefutable evidence of moral corruption and subterfuge at the highest levels of the South African Defense Force (SADF), and corroborate a report in The Monitor Aug. 24 that gave details of a "third force" bent on preserving white power.

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The Goldstone commission findings show that senior military-intelligence officers ap-proved a covert operation to undermine an organization that had been legalized and with which the government was negotiating.

The findings follow a series of political setbacks for Mr. De Klerk that has shaken public confidence in his reform initiative. They have put him under intense pressure to permit a full probe of the security forces.

"These disclosures are going to force De Klerk's hand. He is going to have to move fast to clean up the military or it's going to sap all his energy," says Jakki Cilliers, director of the Johannesburg-based Institite for Defense Politics. "I think this brings us closer to an interim government."

The ANC reacted angrily to the disclosures Nov. 16, but ANC President Nelson Mandela said that he had no option but to continue negotiating with De Klerk.

"I have to work with him [De Klerk] whether I have confidence in him or not," Mr. Mandela told Britain's Channel Four television network. Rift over power sharing

Negotiations have bogged down over the issue of power sharing and a decentralized federal government. The ANC has become divided in recent weeks between those officials who support a compromise power sharing deal - which would have a limited life span of five years or so - and those who want to apply more pressure to achieve full majority rule as soon as possible.

De Klerk insists that he will agree to a deal on a transition to democracy only if it is based on power sharing and the decentralization of power. But the Goldstone report on political violence appears to have weakened his position.

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"De Klerk's credibility and the whole moral base he has claimed for his reform initiatives are in tatters," a Western diplomat says. "The only way he can recover now is to clean up the security forces and proceed swiftly to an interim government."

In the past De Klerk has tried to pin renegade actions on rogue individuals within the security forces who he has vowed will be dealt with in terms of the law. In a BBC interview Nov. 16, De Klerk reiterated his stand on allegations of a "third force":

"Obviously, there might be individuals who have their own agendas, but we have nothing to hide. There is no `third force'.... There is no sinister cabal within the security forces working against government. The government is in firm control of the security forces."

But when confronted with the commission findings in a TV interview hours later, De Klerk was more equivocal. He denied that his security forces had a mandate to undermine the ANC, but conceded: "There may be a few individuals, some small or isolated elements. If there is any evidence of transgressions, we would like to know about it." Covert operations

Judge Richard Goldstone found that an SADF general had approved the hiring of an agent, Ferdi Barnard, who has twice been convicted of murder and has been implicated in testimony before a judicial inquest in the 1989 assassination of leading anti-apartheid activist David Webster.

Mr. Barnard was a member of the notorious Civil Co-operation Bureau - a SADF department aimed at undermining anti-apartheid activists. Judge Goldstone found that the unit was set up to "criminally compromise" members of the ANC military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).

The report makes clear that Constitutional Development Minister Roelf Meyer, widely regarded as one of De Klerk's closest confidants, knew about the covert unit. He fired Barnard when he became aware of the agent's activities but did not close down the unit.

The disclosures were made after the commission had seized five military intelligence files from one of its operational headquarters following a tip-off by the South African Police.

De Klerk, who is facing divisions in the National Party since he made major concessions to the ANC on Sept. 26, has also been widely criticized by anti-apartheid and human rights groups for using a presidential commission to force through Parliament last month a bill providing for amnesty for state officials.

Three of De Klerk's key Cabinet ministers have quit over the past year, citing exhaustion as a main factor.

With negotiations stalled, political violence escalating, and the ailing economy deteriorating steadily, businessmen and Western diplomats have warned that the country could slide into an irreversible decline.

United States Ambassador to South Africa Princeton Lyman warned Nov. 15 that unless an interim government was in place by early next year the country could reach the point of no return.

"The problem about violence is that once it gets beyond a certain point, there is very little outsiders can do about it," Ambassador Lyman said.

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