JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Loyal government soldiers foiled a coup attempt yesterday in the nominally independent homeland of Transkei in the latest episode of trouble in the South Africa-designed tribal territories.
At least 15 people, including the coup leader, were killed in the attempt to overthrow Maj. Gen. Bantu Holomisa, the homeland's military leader, who took control of the government two years ago in a coup of his own.
General Holomisa said the attempt was led by Col. Craig Duli, the general's former second-in-command, and he said he suspected that the South African government was behind the attack.
South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. "Pik" Botha countered that it was "not only totally unfounded but extremely irresponsible" for the general to suggest that South Africa was involved.
"The South African government was totally unaware of the attempted coup," Mr. Botha said.
There has been tension between the South African and Transkei governments in the nine months since South African President F. W. de Klerk legalized the African National Congress, the main anti-apartheid group inside South Africa.
General Holomisa has been an unabashed supporter of the ANC and has given refuge to ANC activists who could not return to South Africa. Chief among them was Chris Hani, the controversial and outspoken commander of the ANC's military wing, Spear of the Nation, who has been engaged in a war of words in recent months with South Africa's military leaders.
The coup attempt began in the early morning yesterday when Colonel Duli and about 25 rebel soldiers opened fire on a Transkei military base outside the capital city of Umtata and took an unknown number of hostages. General Holomisa said four of his soldiers were killed in the attack.
The rebels then moved to the government office building in Umtata, but were surrounded by troops loyal to General Holomisa. Gunfire was exchanged for several hours, until Colonel Duli was led from the building with severe bullet wounds. It was unclear whether he died of those wounds en route to prison or was killed by General Holomisa's soldiers.
The general said 10 of Colonel Duli's co-conspirators were also killed in the gunbattle.
General Holomisa described the events at a rally later yesterday attended by an estimated 30,000 Transkei citizens. He suggested that Colonel Duli had been used by the South African government and called for an urgent meeting with South African officials to discuss the attempted coup.