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Trial of S. African  White Supremacists to Start on Monday - 2003-05-18


In South Africa, the high-profile trial of 22 white supremacists is scheduled to start Monday in Pretoria. The alleged members of a shadowy right-wing organization are accused of a series of bombings and a larger plot to overthrow the government.

The 22 defendants are facing a host of charges, including terrorism, sabotage, high treason and murder.

Prosecutors accuse the men of belonging to the secretive right-wing Afrikaner nationalist group known as the Boeremag. The group is blamed for a series of bombings around the country last year, including one in Soweto that killed a woman.

The state also accuses the alleged Boeremag members of plotting to take over the government, drive all blacks and Indians out of the country, and assassinate former President Nelson Mandela.

Police rounded up the men in a series of raids, in which they found several large arms caches. Analysts say the right-wing threat to the government has been largely eliminated by solid police work and a lack of support for the group among the main Afrikaner population.

But Deputy National Police Commissioner Andre Pruis told reporters last week thta he believes there are still parts of the organization that remain active underground.

"I would not say that the right-wing threat has totally been neutralized by means of this," he said. "I think there are still people that one should take cognizance of, that we are paying attention to. So, it has not neutralized the whole threat. We are still busy with investigations."

Police say security will be unprecedented when the trial begins. They are shutting down the roads around the Palace of Justice in central Pretoria, where the trial takes place.

Ironically, the same courtroom was used for the Rivonia Trial in the early 1960s, when Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and their co-defendants were convicted of treason by the apartheid government of the day.

Legal experts say the Boeremag trial could drag on for years, and the delays could start right away. Defense attorneys have said they intend to file several motions on the first day of the trial, including one challenging the court's jurisdiction.

According to the South African Press Association, they have also indicated that they intend to ask to have the lead prosecutor removed from the case.

Seven defendants are having their legal bills paid by the government they allegedly wanted to overthrow. They have been granted state legal aid, because they could not afford to pay for their own lawyers.

There were originally 23 defendants, but one of the accused pled guilty to terrorism on Friday in a plea bargain. Dawid Oosthuizen was sentenced to eight years in prison, and it looks likely that he will testify against the other 22 accused.