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2 Police Officers Slain, 4 Wounded in S. Africa Ambush

December 14, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Two South African police officers were killed and four others were seriously wounded early Sunday in an ambush by gunmen believed to be black insurgents.

Police headquarters in Pretoria said that a small truck carrying seven black police officers, most of them returning home at the end of their shift, was fired upon from another vehicle in Soweto, the black satellite city outside Johannesburg.

The police officers may not have managed even a few shots in return as the gunmen, using AK-47 assault rifles, raked the truck with long bursts of fire. Only one of the seven was not hit, a police spokesman said. The gunmen escaped.

'Cowardly Criminals'

Police gave no other details of the attack, saying they did not want to prejudice their investigations. "Everything possible will be done to track down these cowardly criminals," the spokesman said in Pretoria.

The ambush appeared to be the latest in a series of such attacks on the police in an escalating guerrilla campaign by insurgents belonging to the outlawed African National Congress.

Two police officers were seriously wounded in a similar ambush last week in the Crossroads squatter camp outside Cape Town. Two weeks ago, insurgents heavily damaged a police training center in Soweto with three large bombs.

Black police officers have been a particular target throughout the last three years of civil unrest; considered by many in their communities as "collaborators" with the minority white government or "traitors" to the cause of blacks, dozens have already been killed.

Although there was no immediate comment from ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, informed government sources noted Sunday that senior police commanders had warned that the group was planning to step up its attacks prior to Christmas and that Steve Tshwete, the new political commissar of the ANC's military wing, had predicted a new guerrilla campaign that would shake popular confidence in the Pretoria government.

No Casualty Figures

Although police headquarters declined Sunday to say how many police officers have been killed or wounded in such attacks this year, a senior police officer said last month that direct ANC attacks on police have risen sharply in the past year and now constitute 35% of recorded "terrorist incidents," compared with 26% in the two previous years.

The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, an ANC rival, has also increased its military activity over the past year, claiming responsibility for a grenade attack on municipal police in Soweto six months ago.

Two more blacks were killed in continuing feuding between anti-apartheid groups in Natal province. One man was stabbed to death in Clermont, near Durban, when a mob burned his house; the other was killed in one of the troubled black townships outside Pietermaritzburg, the provincial capital.

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