OT Hell on earth

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(I wonder if the reporter had difficulty doing this story.)

Friday, May 5, 2000


By Andrew Selsky -- Associated Press

PRETORIA, South Africa -- A former special forces officer described killing hundreds of black prisoners and tossing their corpses from an airplane, shedding light on one of the worst horrors committed by apartheid South Africa.

Johan Theron's testimony for the first time crystallized the events of two decades ago. Sketchy reports had surfaced earlier of the murders of some 200 members of a guerrilla group that fought South Africa's occupation of neighbouring Namibia, known as South-West Africa until it won independence in 1990.

The killings began with crude and gruesome stranglings, but evolved into more sophisticated poisonings with the evidence disposed of in the frigid waters of the Atlantic, Theron told the Pretoria High Court.

Adjusting his gold-rimmed glasses while leaning forward in the witness stand, Theron told of flinging his victims' corpses from a plane 3,600 metres above the Atlantic and watching the bodies plummet to the sea.

"The people had to be dead before I threw them into the sea," the former lieutenant-colonel explained, to eliminate any chance of their surviving the fall and returning to implicate him.

Most had been killed by an overdose of muscle relaxants, supplied by Dr. Wouter Basson, who ran apartheid South Africa's chemical and biological weapons program, Theron said. Theron was testifying Thursday as a prosecution witness in Basson's murder, conspiracy and fraud trial.

Theron hopes to win immunity from prosecution by testifying here. He said he did not confess his crimes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- which can grant amnesty for full disclosure of abuses committed during apartheid -- because he did not want to be "humiliated" and made into a media sideshow.

Judge Willie Hartzenberg has forbidden journalists from taking pictures of Theron, who is being protected by police bodyguards.

Theron said he and the commander of South Africa's special forces at the time, Gen. Fritz Loots, had decided there were too many South-West African People's Organization guerrillas in the prison camps, and that they posed a "security risk."

The two decided to kill the prisoners, and Theron conducted an aerial surveillance of the Atlantic coast off Namibia, deciding the bodies could be dumped 160 kilometres off the coast without being washed back to shore. South African paramilitary police then began delivering prisoners to him for execution in 1979, Theron said.

The first killing did not go as planned, Theron said Wednesday. He fired a dart supposedly loaded with an overdose of tranquilizer to kill a prisoner on the plane, but the man did not go down.

"The prisoner started struggling with me, realizing that it was a situation of life or death. I put a plastic cuff around his neck and strangled him," Theron said. "I thought he would die quickly, but it took a full fifteen minutes of kicking and wetting himself before he died.

"It was a very traumatic experience -- it is not the way in which I want to see my enemy die," Theron said, looking more like a mild clerk than a mass murderer for the apartheid state.

After trying to perfect the execution technique with muscle relaxants that caused the victims to suffocate, Theron said he was still not satisfied because they were obviously dying in agony. So future victims were given anesthesia in cans of soda or beer before being injected with the muscle relaxant, Theron said.

"I cannot remember how many we killed," Theron said. "I wrote it on my heart never to remember it again, but there must have been hundreds of them."

Basson's lawyer, in cross-examining Theron, accused him of implicating Basson to save himself from prosecution. Basson, charged with 61 counts including murder, fraud and drug dealing, did not testify.

-- viewer (justp@ssing.by), May 05, 2000


And people here get upset if they miss the green light and have to wait 3 minutes longer to get where they are going.

Life is funny, those who have it good seem to always have something to complain about, where others who have it bad would give anything for a little security.

-- Cherri (sams@brigadoon.com), May 05, 2000.

And people here get upset if a few posts get deleted.

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), May 05, 2000.

Talk about perspective.

-- capnfun (capnfun1@excite.com), May 05, 2000.

As a species, we have so much to be proud of.

-- Richard (Astral-Acres@webtv.net), May 05, 2000.

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