South Africa's truth commission on Tuesday pardoned four men who beat and stabbed visiting American Fulbright scholar Amy Biehl to death in a township outside Cape Town in the final months of white rule.

The four, Vusumzi Ntamo, Ntobeko Peni, Easy Nofemela and Mongezi Manqina, who are serving sentences of 18 years, were likely to be released within hours, an official said.Biehl was attacked in the Gugulethu township in August 1993 while driving three black friends from the university she worked at to their township home.

She died on a pavement begging for mercy as her attackers kicked, stabbed and stoned her.

The Amnesty Committee of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission said the four young activists killed Biehl in the belief that they would further their campaign for freedom from white rule, which ended eight months later.

The amnesty committee, which is authorized to pardon crimes committed with a political motive, said the four men were among about 10 people who killed Biehl.

They found her driving in an area where whites were seldom seen and on their way home from a political rally where the anti-apartheid Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA) had chanted the slogan: "One settler, one bullet."

The judges who granted amnesty said in their explanation that the four youths, aged between 18 and 22 at the time, subscribed to the slogan and to the belief that whites were their enemies.

"At that moment, to them, Amy Biehl was a representative of the white community.

"They believed that by killing civilian whites, APLA was sending a serious political message to the (white) government of the day," the judges said.

Biehl's parents, who attended the hearing at which the four explained their actions, said in a statement on Tuesday they accepted the decision.

More than 20,000 people, the vast majority of them black, died in the struggle for liberation from apartheid.

Tutu's truth commission wraps up its work on Friday.