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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

South African Generals Deny Abuses

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Top generals from the apartheid era denied Wednesday the military had been a political tool, saying they were neutral in obeying the rules of war.

Military leaders testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of a special investigation into the armies of both the former apartheid government and the black liberation movements.

The Truth Commission, chaired by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was set up a year after the country's first all-race elections in 1994 to investigate abuses by all sides under apartheid.

General Constand Viljoen said the South African Defense Force had been an effective military force carrying out its patriotic duty, not a political tool of the National Party, ruling at the time and dominated by white Afrikaners.

"The previous defense force was politically neutral ... we served the former state with effectiveness. During the transitional period [to a new government], we also served effectively,"he said.

The military fought in defense of the apartheid state both within South Africa's borders and across southern Africa, from Mozambique to Angola.

But Viljoen said South Africa's military had not committed human rights abuses.

"We deliberately avoided these and trained our forces accordingly,"he said, blaming the black liberation movements for taking the conflicts into the African bush and using the local populace as a "human shield."

Viljoen said the conflicts had to be seen in the light of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s, and the army had sought to protect South Africa from communist expansion when the Soviet bloc was backing many of the region's liberation movements.

Former special forces head Major General Joep Joubert, who is applying for amnesty from the commission for unspecified acts during his military career, said racial issues never came into the conflict.

In the generals' testimony, the Truth Commission itself came under attack. General Georg Meiring, Defense Force head from 1993 to 1994, said soldiers who served the old government see the TRC as biased. "Many of our members do not wish to become involved," he said.