South Africa's reprisal air attack on Mozambique yesterday has produced a war of conflicting claims between the two countries following a visit to the raid site by a group of western journalists.
Shortly after the journalists arrived here today from Maputo saying they had seen only light damage and been told by Mozambican authorities that six people had been killed in the raid, South African defense officials issued a communique claiming 64 were killed.
Accusing Mozambique of sealing off the actual target area and hiding the bodies of African National Congress insurgents killed in the raid, the statement said its casualty figures were based on "latest confirmed intelligence reports."
Of the 64 killed, it said, 41 were congress insurgents, 17 were soldiers of the ruling Frelimo party in Mozambique and six were civilians. Another 44 people were injured, according to the communique.
The statement said that Mozambique was trying to suggest for propaganda purposes that the attack had been directed at civilians.
In announcing news of the raid yesterday, South African Defense Minister Magnus Malan emphasized that it was in retaliation for a bomb explosion in Pretoria Friday that killed 18 people and injured 217, most of them civilians.
The African National Congress, which is trying to overthrow white minority rule by force, has claimed responsibility for the explosion.
The journalists said the Mozambican minister of information, Jose Luis Cabaco, took them on a tour of the suburbs of Matola and Libadade where the raid took place.
They had been unable to tour the area independently because Maputo has no public transportation or taxis, but they later flew over the area in a light aircraft and said they saw no signs of damage heavier than what they had been shown on the ground.
The reporters said Cabaco showed them about 10 houses with bullet-marked walls and a slightly damaged jam factory in which three people were killed.
One straw house had been completely destroyed, they said. They said they saw no missle site, which South Africa claimed yesterday to have destroyed in the raid.
According to the journalists, the Mozambican authorities claimed only one of the six dead was an African National Congress refugee from South Afica and two were children.
The journalists were told that the raid injured about 40 people.
The journalists also said the damaged houses that Cabaco showed them did not match the cardboard models that a South African spokesman displayed at a defense force briefing in Pretoria yesterday and said matched the houses that had been strafed.
It was claimed at the briefing that the six houses were "camps" used by congress insurgents. South African officials said one had between 100 and 200 people in it at the time of the raid and another contained a weapons dump including limpet mines, which are small explosives made to be attached to the hulls of ships by swimmers.
In its communique today, the defense force said, "It is obvious that the area was immediately cordoned off to facilitate proper rearrangement to gain the highest propaganda value.
"Sealing off an area hit by security forces, hiding the bodies of terrorists and showing dead civilians to sympathetic journalists have been standard propaganda ploys during every war in the past two decades, but especially here in Africa where terrorist organizations are afraid of too close a scrutiny of their activities."
The communique added that the raid had been "a clinical, finely planned operation directed against proven hiding places of the ANC and was successfully carried out by professional people."