Malan, Viljoen deny knowledge of mass graves

Apartheid-era defence minister Magnus Malan has joined former South African Defence Force (SADF) chief Constand Viljoen in denying any knowledge of mass graves found near a former South African military base in northern Namibia.

Two mass graves have been found near Eenhana, 850km north-east of Windhoek.

The base was home to the South African army’s 54 Battalion during the latter part of the 1966-1989 border war.

Retired Freedom Front leader Viljoen, who was chief of the army from 1977 to 1985, said burying dead guerrillas was a police function.

People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (Plan) fighters killed by the South African army and South-West African Territory Force by law had to be handed over to the South-West African police for identification and burial.

The bones are suspected to be those of Plan fighters who may have been killed in the so-called nine-day war in April 1989.

Construction workers discovered a first mass grave containing human bones and ammunition 400m from the base on Thursday.

With the exhumation of the grave still in progress, it is not known how many bodies the grave contains.

Malan on Monday said questions about the graves should be directed at the United Nations, as it was in command in Namibia at the time.

“I know nothing about it, but if you have a look, you’ll see we weren’t in Namibia in that stage, it was [the] United Nations ...
In that period there was a gentleman there called Mr [Maarti] Athisaari, who was the representative of the United Nations. If I were you, I’d phone him and ask him, ‘What the hell did you people do here?’.

“I know nothing about a grave but they should know about it, they were in command, in charge, there.”

Several hundred Plan cadres were killed in the nine days after April 1 1989, just before UN peacekeepers formally took over from the SADF.

The Namibian government has asked the South African National Defence Force to shed light on the graves to speed up identification.

South African government sources say Pretoria will tackle the question privately with Windhoek.

Jane’s Defence Weekly correspondent Helmoed-Romer Heitman said photographs exist of South African troops burying Swapo members towards the end of the liberation war in 1989 when, in the absence of mortuaries, the dead were buried in pits dug by front-end loaders.

A book on the border conflict by author Willem Steenkamp shows one such grave being dug, but by South-West African police officers attached to its counterinsurgency wing, infamously known as “Koevoet”.

The pictures show them digging the graves with spades—not front-end loaders.

Athisaari later became president of Finland.—Sapa

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