Conflict between S. Africa and rebels grows more vicious

The land mine that killed six people last weekend in northern South Africa near the Zimbabwean border adds a brutal new dimension to the turmoil in South Africa. The explosion is also likely to increase tensions between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The outlawed African National Congress, which seeks to overthrow South Africa's white-minority rule, claims it planted the mine that exploded Sunday and others that exploded in the same area last month. The blasts show that the conflict between the ANC and Pretoria is getting more vicious. Previously, the ANC has attacked military targets, avoiding civilian targets and indiscriminate terrorism. But the ANC did warn recently that civilians could expect to be hurt as the conflict in South Africa escalates .

South Africa says three groups of insurgents operating out of Zimbabwe probably laid the mines. [South Africa renewed threats Monday to raid Zimbabwe in pursuit of guerrillas blamed for laying the mines, Reuters reports.]

The South African military, which is very much in evidence along the border, says the mine that exploded Sunday was planted at the end of November, along with several others that have already been detonated by passing vehicles or defused by Army patrols.

Although land mines are widely used in guerrilla warfare, the ones planted in the sparsely populated northern area of South Africa's Transvaal Province were the first that had been laid in this country.

The mine blasts come against a background of continuing violence around South Africa. Police and young blacks battled Monday in the remote farming area of Moutse. The blacks were resisting government efforts to incorporate them into a so-called ``homeland.'' On Sunday, police reportedly fired tear gas into a crowd of protesters in Durban. The crowd was demanding freedom for jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela.

The four children and two adults who died in Sunday's mine blasts, as well as the five people injured, were white. They were traveling in a truck along a track in a wild game farm on a holiday excursion when the mine was detonated.

The atmosphere along the northern border has become increasingly tense and the mine blasts have added to local fears. The Army has sent more teams into the area to check back roads for other mines.

Local residents and visitors are being told not to ``drive around the area aimlessly'' and to check with the Army before setting out to visit more remote areas.

After the first blasts at the end of last month, the South African military made it clear it believed the insurgents who laid the land mines almost certainly came from Zimbabwe. The government threatened to ``follow the tracks'' of any rebels across the border to take revenge.

In the past, the South African government has raided what it claimed were ANC bases in neighboring countries like Lesotho, Mozambique, and Botswana.

So far, it has not openly violated the Zimbabwe border. But Zimbabwe claims that South Africa has provided a base for Zimbabwean rebels who have caused violence in the southern part of its country.

Zimbabwe also claims that South Africa's threats to follow insurgents across the border into its territory are merely a pretext to justify an invasion, which it says it is ready to repulse.

Zimbabwe says that although it supports the ANC politically, it will not allow that organization to train its forces in Zimbabwe, operate from that country, or even pass through on military missions.

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