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South African Civic Groups Angered by Arrest of Protesters Ahead of UN Summit - 2002-08-22

The arrest of nearly 80 activists from South Africa's Landless People's Movement and National Land Committee has angered representatives of non-government groups gathering for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, or WSSD.

Several prominent South African civic groups are condemning the arrest of 77 protesters on charges of public violence, just days before the start of the massive U.N.-sponsored summit.

The protesters were arrested Wednesday after more than 1,000 people marched on the provincial governor's office to protest forced evictions of squatter-camp residents around Johannesburg in recent months.

Two activist groups, the National Land Committee and the Landless People's Movement, coordinated the march. NLC spokeswoman Thevan Naidoo says police and national security forces have intimidated and harassed the groups as the summit approached.

"I would say the evictions and forced removals have a direct link with the WSSD," she said. " If you notice the distinct pattern of people that were removed. They all occupy areas that are close to town, near major highways, highways that people will have to follow to get to the main convention areas. All of that, their removals are also deliberately designed to keep them away, to push them into the periphery of the society so they won't be an eyesore to international delegates."

Police are threatening to deport National Land Committee media coordinator Ann Eveleth, who is a U.S. citizen. They accuse her of being in the country illegally. Police say it is an immigration matter unrelated to the protest.

But Ms. Naidoo of the National Land Committee says Ms. Eveleth has all the proper paperwork including a work permit. She says the American has been working in South Africa for eight years.

The activist groups are vowing to continue with their campaign for land during the summit, and they say thousands of their international comrades-in-arms will join them. They have declared next week the Week of the Landless and scheduled a massive march on the summit venue, the Sandton Convention Center, on August 31. They expect some 10,000 people to take part.