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Botha Fingered for Church Bombing

July 21, 1998

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) _ Former President P.W. Botha ordered the 1988 destruction of a church headquarters, saying it was used by black activists and had become ``unholy,″ his former law and order minister testified today.

The testimony by Adriaan Vlok before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is among the most damning ever against the apartheid-era president. The commission is trying to uncover abuses committed during apartheid, and determine whether attacks on anti-apartheid activists were ordered at the highest levels of government.

The Johannesburg headquarters of the South African Council of Churches, known as Khotso House, was heavily damaged during the Aug. 31, 1988, nighttime bombing. The blast injured a few people but caused no deaths.

Others, including a former national police chief, have alleged that Botha ordered the bombing. But no accusation was as direct _ and from such a senior official _ as the one made by Vlok in his amnesty application.

Botha has denied authorizing the bombing.

According to Vlok, Botha told him to ``make the building unusable by the SACC″ while ensuring no deaths occurred. Botha did not specify how that should be done, Vlok said.

Botha said Khotso House was being used as a safe house by African National Congress operatives and had become an ``unholy place″ and therefore had to be dealt with, Vlok alleged.

Vlok said he arranged to have the building blown up and that Botha congratulated him and the police afterward.

Vlok, who was law and order minister at the time, is also applying for amnesty for the bombing of the Congress of South African Trade Unions headquarters on May 7, 1988, and a series of bomb blasts at theaters showing the film ``Cry Freedom,″ starring Denzel Washington as slain anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.

Botha is on trial for refusing to appear before the Truth Commission, which can grant amnesty to those who confess fully to politically motivated abuses committed during apartheid. A verdict is expected in mid-August.

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