CAPE TOWN June 8 1998 - SAPA

CHEMICAL WEAPONS EXPERT "BITTEN" BY HIS OWN GADGET: TRC HEARS

A former SA Defence Force chemical weapons expert was knocked out while demonstrating a James Bond type gadget he had designed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard in Cape Town on Monday.

Dr Jan Lourens, a self-confessed expert in designing and developing poison bearing weapons for the SADF, was testifying at the TRC hearing into the former government's chemical and biological warfare programme.

Lourens, a bio-engineer, once headed a front company called Protechnic that supplied gadgetry to the SADF's special operations unit headed by Dr Wouter Basson.

He told the TRC his company developed screwdrivers, walking sticks and umbrellas that could be used to inject poison into victims. Some of the gadgets, including a ring that could open and dispense poison into someone's drink, were exhibited at the hearing.

Lourens said on one occasion he was asked by Basson to deliver one of the screwdriver gadgets to a man called Trevor who he was to meet at a railway station at Ascot in England.

Lourens said he took with him two vials of poison and when he met the man proceeded to demonstrate how the weapon worked. He said that while installing the vial into the screwdriver it broke and the poison spilt on his hand.

"I don't know how it happened but I must have wiped my mouth and I lost consciousness," he said.

Lourens said when he came round he went to a toilet where he found a bottle of antiseptic which he drank and which made him ill. He said he later recovered, and when he returned to South Africa and told Basson and others about the incident they did not believe him because they said he should have been dead.

Later he was asked by TRC deputy chairman Dr Alex Boraine, who is a member of the panel presiding in the hearing, if he had realised that the weapons he was developing were probably weapons to be used against humans.

He replied that he was under no illusions that they would be used by assassins, but never applied his mind as to who the victims would be during that era.

"It is strange to look at it with hindsight but I could not see a face which I could regard as the public enemy," he said.

In 1993 Lourens decided to sell the Protechnic company to a Belgian businessman, Charles van Remoortere, who questioned what had happened to the funds.

Lourens said this placed him in a difficult position because he could not disclose that he had been involved in chemical weapons manufacture. He then approached a friend who knew the then Deputy Minister of Defence Roelf Meyer. This led to a meeting with the head of the army, General Kat Liebenberg, who agreed to resolve the problem. However, Liebenberg told him that he should remember that "those toys are mine" referring to the gadgets.

Lourens said he then buried the weapons and later approached the Transvaal Attorney-General's office. He has now applied for amnesty and may be used as a State witness in the trial of Basson.


South African Press Association, 1998
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