U.S. Recalls Ambassador to Protest S. African Raids : 16 Killed in Attack on Guerrillas in Botswana

Times Staff Writer

Sixteen people were reported killed Friday in a lightning South African commando raid on offices and homes of the African National Congress in Gaborone, the capital of neighboring Botswana.

Gen. Constand Viljoen, chief of the South African armed forces, said after the pre-dawn raid that his troops had killed 13 members of the African National Congress, the main guerrilla group fighting the white minority regime here, in coordinated attacks on 10 houses and offices scattered in and around Gaborone, which lies only a few miles from the South African border.

The raid immediately brought strong protests not only from Botswana but from the United States, which angrily recalled its ambassador to South Africa for consultations, and from West European countries.

Assailed by Tutu


Within South Africa, the move drew sharp criticism from Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel peace laureate, as well as from the South African Council of Churches and from members of the liberal white opposition Progressive Federal Party.

Calling the Gaborone raid “an unwarranted act of violence and terrorism,” the South African Council of Churches said that it “again calls into serious question the integrity of the government with its repeated claims that it longs for peace.” Colin Eglin, the Progressive Federal Party spokesman on foreign affairs, called it “distressing” because Botswana had been discussing security arrangements with South Africa. Tutu termed it a “highly provocative act . . . in a tense and volatile situation in South Africa.”

In South Africa, meanwhile, four more blacks died--all at the hands of other blacks--in the continuing unrest here.

A 7-year-old boy was stoned unconscious and then burned to death in Zwide near Port Elizabeth, according to police, who are still trying to determine the motive for the killing. The body of a 16-year-old youth was found beneath a pile of burning tires in another black township near Port Elizabeth. A man was stoned to death during a funeral near Welkom in the Orange Free State. And a 20-year-old member of the Azanian People’s Organization died from injuries suffered when members of a rival black group beat him with clubs earlier this week.

Serious clashes between blacks and police, and among blacks themselves, are feared this weekend on the ninth anniversary of the Soweto “uprising” in 1976, an incident that began over educational grievances and led to riots that left at least 575 people dead.

Soweto Observance

Prayer services are planned in black townships around the country to mark the Soweto uprising, but the possibility of unrest has probably been increased by the raid on the African National Congress offices in Gaborone.

The Gaborone raid was aimed at known guerrilla facilities in the Botswana capital, Viljoen told a press conference at a military base outside Pretoria. The operation was intended to prevent an expected campaign of assassinations and bombings here later this month by “destroying the nerve center of the African National Congress operations against South Africa from Botswana,” he said. The guerrilla campaign was to coincide with a special strategy conference the congress begins in Lusaka, Zambia, this weekend.


The decision to launch the raid, Viljoen and other officials said, was made after the grenade attacks earlier this week outside Cape Town on two Colored, or mixed-race, members of Parliament, one of them a deputy minister.

“That was the last straw,” Viljoen said. “It convinced us of the need to do this before a lot more happened.”

Had ‘No Alternative’

Roelof F. (Pik) Botha, the foreign minister and acting defense minister, said in a statement from Cape Town that South Africa had “no alternative” but to strike at the guerrilla field headquarters he said had developed in Gaborone in recent months.


“Although it is committed to resolve its differences with its neighbors by peaceful means,” Botha said, “South Africa will not hesitate to take whatever action may be appropriate for the defense of its own people and for the elimination of terrorist elements intent on sowing death and destruction in our country and our region.”

Viljoen, noting that this was the fifth South African raid on a neighboring country over the past four years to attack guerrilla offices, warned that his forces are prepared to go back to Botswana if the black nationalists continue their activities.

His intelligence officers have already identified eight more houses, Viljoen said, but these were not attacked because of a desire to keep the operation limited and to ensure civilian safety.

13 Cadres Targeted


The commandos had orders to kill 13 identified cadres of the guerrilla group if found during the 1:30 a.m. raid--"We intended to kill all the terrorists we found,” Viljoen said--but officials here were not certain how many of these were among the guerrillas who died as the South African troops attacked with assault rifles and grenades.

Two more persons died, Viljoen said, after they opened fire on South African troops retreating back across the border and the commandos destroyed their car with return fire.

A 5-year-old girl, one of about 10 persons wounded in cross-fire between the South African troops and the guerrillas, also died, according to Botswana officials, who reported a number of civilian casualties in the sometimes heavy fighting. The girl was cut down in the hail of bullets when South African soldiers attacked her home, killing her mother and uncle, Botswana officials said. They described most of the casualties as “refugees” from apartheid, South Africa’s system of strict racial separation.

Dutch Citizen Killed


The Netherlands Embassy in Pretoria said one of the dead was a Dutch citizen, a refugee from Somalia who had married a Dutch woman and was living in Botswana.

To minimize civilian casualties, the South African troops used megaphones to urge residents of Gaborone to remain indoors during the 40-minute operation. They similarly asked the Botswana police and defense forces not to interfere and “obtained good cooperation” from them, according to Viljoen.

The death of the girl and the other civilian casualties were “a great pity,” Viljoen said, stressing that South Africa’s quarrel is not with Botswana or its people but with the African National Congress and its guerrillas.

One South African soldier was wounded in the arm during the fighting, according to Viljoen.


Viljoen refused to disclose how many troops participated in the operation, what routes they had taken into Botswana or how the raid had been planned.

Door locks shattered by rifle and machine-gun fire showed how the guerrillas and their families had been caught by surprise as the commandos burst in. Grenades and explosives were used to wreck houses and offices, cars were burned and rows of bullet holes lined most walls.

The commandos seized a number of weapons, including a silencer-equipped rifle used for assassinations and a night-sight for a grenade launcher, and took away boxes full of documents, South African officials said.