JOHANNESBURG, SEPT. 7 -- A delegation of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists today sharply criticized actions by South African police in strife-torn Natal province and urged that an international monitoring unit be sent to the region.
The findings by the three-man delegation, made public at a news conference here, represented the first independent assessment of the bloody conflict between followers of Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Movement and supporters of the African Nation Congress, South Africa's most prominent black nationalist group. The fighting in Natal has claimed 4,000 lives in the past three years.
The conflict recently spread to black townships in the Johannesburg area, where nearly 600 people have been killed since last month. Violence in the townships was reported today to have claimed 11 more lives in the last two days.
The three jurists -- a Briton, a Swede and a South African -- said two weeks of discussions with villagers in Natal convinced them that the police are widely perceived to side with Inkatha.
The jurists cited a black police force in the segregated black homeland of Kwazulu, which is in Natal and which Buthelezi rules as chief minister and minister of police. "These police are seen as both player and referee, and in some cases their conduct has been violent and cruel," the jurists' statement said.
Peace is unlikely unless this perception of one-sidedness is changed, they added.
"We recommend the deployment of a human rights verification mission, perhaps provided by the countries of the European Community, which could supervise and monitor the existing security forces, serving as an ombudsman," said delegation leader John McDonald.
McDonald, a senior British barrister, said the idea had received a largely positive response, although the South African government was "less enthusiastic" than other groups.
The jurists urged the government to lift the state of emergency in Natal, saying that emergency regulations encourage police "to cut corners and break the rules."
The delegation criticized Inkatha's leaders, saying it found them less aware of the need to discipline their supporters than are the ANC's leaders.
While ANC leaders realize that many of their young followers are "out of hand" and that the movement has a responsibility to discipline them, the jurists said, "at every level we were told by Inkatha supporters that all that is needed to bring peace is for Nelson Mandela to talk to Buthelezi."
Such a meeting between Mandela, the ANC's deputy president, and Buthelezi should be held only after careful preparation, the jurists said.
The jurists expressed astonishment that several of Inkatha's regional chiefs have not been prosecuted despite evidence of their involvement in killings. They singled out David Ntombela, who they said was found by an inquest court last year to have probably committed two murders and who since has been accused of more.
In the latest violence in the Johannesburg area, six blacks were reported to have been killed and 30 injured Thursday when a group of black men leaped from a minibus in Soweto and opened fire at random on pedestrians.
In a similar incident Thursday night, witnesses described four black men jumping from the back of a pickup truck, running onto the platform of a train station and opening fire on commuters. Five people were reported killed and 14 wounded.
In both cases, bystanders said the vehicles appeared to have been driven by white men wearing face masks. Similar allegations were made after an attack Tuesday night on a migrant workers' hostel in Sebokeng township, south of Johannesburg, in which 36 people were reported killed. The incidents have led to charges that white extremists may be involved in the violence.