PRETORIA, South Africa -- In the face of damaging inquiries into the conduct of state security forces, the South African government proposed a general amnesty yesterday for all political crimes, including those committed by police or government officials.
The amnesty was offered as a way to "bury the past" and begin a new era of politics with a clean slate, but the African National Congress immediately rejected the proposal as a government attempt to excuse itself for crimes.
"We don't think that it's appropriate for a government which still perpetrates some of the crimes it wants to get amnesty for to pardon itself," said an ANC spokesman, Saki Macozoma. "You can't talk about a clean slate while you still have the same apartheid regime."
The dispute is the latest in a 3-month-old breakdown in relations between the government and the ANC, the two main parties attempting to negotiate a new constitution for South Africa.
It --ed hopes that the two parties might be nearing the point of resuming talks on the country's future.
The argument over amnesty also comes in the midst of a judicial inquiry into the massacre June 17 in the black township of Boipatong. Eyewitnesses have directly implicated police in the massacre, in which more than 40 blacks were bludgeoned in their homes.
In addition, there have been reports in South African newspapers in recent days suggesting that top government officials might have taken part in conspiracies to assassinate government opponents.
"We think it's quite obvious. Initially [the government] was categorically opposed to a general amnesty. But the recent revelations touching on various senior ministers obviously have resulted in a change of mind," said Mr. Macozoma.
The amnesty proposal was unveiled to reporters by a troika of top government officials: Foreign Minister Roelof Botha, Justice MinisterKobie Coetsee and Constitutional Affairs Minister Roelf Meyer.
They said they were acting in accordance with recommendations of United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has proposed that 30 U.N. monitors be sent to South Africa to assist local peace-keeping teams.
Mr. Boutros-Ghali suggested that the government expedite the release of South Africa's remaining political prisoners in order to improve the political climate and bury the past. He also called for a series of investigations into "certain agencies," including the police, army and the military wings of all anti-government political organizations, including the ANC.
"The context in which the recommendations were made is one of solving the problems of violence,identifying the sources and finding solutions on the ground," said Mr. Coetsee. "We do not interpret this assignment as one of trying to search for culprits."
The government went a step further than Mr. Boutros-Ghali, however, and said a comprehensive investigation of political crimes should be linked to a general amnesty.
"If we're going to bury the past, we ought to do it properly," Mr. Botha told reporters.
The foreign minister said the government accepted "in principle" the entire U.N. report on South Africa, which was compiled after a 10-day mission to the country led by special envoy Cyrus R. Vance, a former U.S. secretary of state.
He said the government agreed that the United Nations should sendobservers to work with a national peace committee, established last year to resolve political conflicts before they erupt into violence.
The agreement represented a complete shift from South Africa's previous stand against outside interference, especially by the United Nations. It was announced on the day that the first U.N. observers departed South Africa, after a week of monitoring an ANC-led mass protest campaign against the government.
The ANC accuses the government of dragging its feet on the issue of establishing a new constitution in which blacks and whites have an equal vote.
It says the government is seeking to write a white veto into the new constitution, a charge denied by the government.