Sorry about Blowpipe, PW Botha tells Thatcher

South African State President PW Botha has reportedly sent a personal apology to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher over last month's Blowpipe missile scandal. The apology – said to be contained in a private communication delivered to London this week- illustrates the depth of Pretoria's concern over a potential reversal of the diplomatic headway made with Britain in recent weeks.

A spokesman for the state president's office, Jack Vivier, yesterday refused to confirm a report in the London Independent, which said the Botha apology formed part of a letter to Thatcher which "expressed regret at the 'transgression' committed by South African officials Diplomatic sources insisted, however, that there had been an apology, and their view was bolstered by a statement in parliament on the affair by Foreign Minister Pik Botha

Responding to the release of the Defence Ministry's long-awaited investigation into the Paris deal, Botha said "the state president has been in direct contact with the British prime minister over this matter''. The apology and promises that appropriate steps will be taken against the South Africans concerned, and that there will be no repetition of the incident, will make the British prime minister's task of placating her own parliament easier. There seems little doubt that the Thatcher government would like the issue to be dispensed with as soon as possible, so that it does not threaten the renewed influence Britain enjoys in southern Africa.

In his report on the official investigation into the Blowpipe scandal, Defence Minister Magnus Malan admitted in parliament this week that Paris based "state official" Daniel Storm had acted as a representative of Armscor in negotiations with an American arms dealer – but vigorously denied knowingly dealing with ''Irish terrorists". In a statement typical of the South African government, he effectively apologised for the fact that "acceptable limits" had been transgressed, while remaining unrepentant about South Africa's involvement in international arms dealing.

This article originally appeared on the Weekly Mail.

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Shaun Johnson
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