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Friday, July 31, 1998 Published at 00:08 GMT 01:08 UK

World: Africa

D-Day for 'Doctor Death'

Dr Basson: told to talk or go to jail

On the last day of its hearings, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is waiting for crucial testimony from the former head of the country's chemical and biological weapons programme, Wouter Basson.

The commission winds up on Friday after more than two years of hearings and investigations into human rights violations committed during the apartheid era.

Dr Basson - nicknamed "Doctor Death" - has been told to answer all the commission's questions by the end of the day, or risk being sent to jail.

He is due to give evidence about his alleged role in the development of chemical and biological weapons for use against anti-apartheid activists.

The hearing had been due to begin on Wednesday, but Dr Basson asked for a delay to brief his legal team.

The commission has accused him of playing for time in the knowledge that its mandate is to expire at midnight on Friday.

Criminal charges

Dumisa Ntsebeza, chairman of the human rights panel of the commision, said the commission would, if needed, sit until midnight on Friday to hear all the evidence it needs.

"We reserve the right to charge him with contempt of court and to lay criminal charges," Mr Ntsebeza added, adding that under the Truth Commission's mandate such charges could lead to two years in jail.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about some of the cases heard by commission
The BBC correspondent in South Africa says the Truth Commission chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sees the chemical and biological weapons programme investigation as very important, and would be deeply disappointed if the investigation ends without evidence.

Bacteria against blacks

Dr Basson is accused of masterminding a programme in the 1980s to develop chemical and biological weapons to be used against black people and anti-apartheid protesters.

But Dr Basson's colleagues testifying to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have said he was leading research into a vaccine to sterilise blacks and a bacterium that would kill only black people.

He denies the allegation.

In a written statement, he has said that South Africa's chemical and biological weapons programme was developed in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Cuban troops supporting the Angolan Government against South African soldiers.

Dr Basson's lawyers have already tried to argue that any appearance before the commission would prejudice his forthcoming criminal trial in connection with his work as a government scientist.

But this was overruled by the South African High Court earlier this week.

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