A Blow Against the `Third Force'

FREDERIK DE KLERK'S dismissal of 23 military officers suspected of working against South Africa's transition to democracy sounds another note of optimism in that still-embattled country. Others include the resumption of negotiations between the National Party government and the African National Congress, the ANC's acceptance of an interim period of power sharing, and the government's loosening of its long and destructive alliance with the Inkatha Freedom Party.

As the two most powerful entities on the South African political scene, the government and the ANC have to lead the way back toward multiparty talks, a new constitution, and fully democratic elections. It appears that both the De Klerk government and the ANC are now ready to shoulder their responsibilities.

The president's announcement of his move against subversives within the military was a sharp turn from past denials of state involvement in attacks against the ANC and thus against the negotiating process. But evidence has been mounting that elements in the South African Defense Forces, especially in the intelligence branches, have been part of the "third force" committed to fostering violence and thwarting the efforts to abandon the racist apartheid system.

The commission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone last month released findings that military intelligence had hired a convicted murderer to plot attacks against the ANC. Next, Mr. De Klerk was presented with preliminary results of an investigation he personally authorized of military collusion in the political violence. That information led him to dismiss the officers, including six generals.

The ANC applauded De Klerk's move, but said it was only a beginning. And there is no doubt much more to come about subversive dealings by the military and police. But the president's action undoubtedly helps build good faith as momentum increases toward a resumption of full-scale negotiations in 1993.

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