Rhodesia truce menaced as clashes, protests swell

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

A very large question mark still hangs over the future of troubled Rhodesia. The six-day-old cease-fire in the bush war here already has been violated, and there are conflicting claims about just who is to blame.

Moreover, the impartiality of Lord Soames, the temporary British Governor here, has been called into question.

After initial signs that the new cease-fire might bring an end to the guerrilla war that has engulfed Rhodesia for the past seven years, the latest news has been discouraging to those who hoped for a peaceful solution to this country's travail.

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Only some 4,000 Patriotic Front guerrillas have so far turned up at various cease-fire assembly points around the country in compliance with the agreement reached after weeks of negotiations in London.

According to the front's own figures, that represents only about 13 percent of a fighting force claimed to number over 31,000. Even if other, more conservative estimates of only about 12,000 guerrillas are accepted, then around three-quarters of the Patriotic Front insurgents still have not complied with the cease-fire.

Worse still, reports of abduction, robberies, ambushes, assaults, and armed attacks continue flowing into Salisbury. The Rhodesian Army places the blame squarely on the front's guerrillas.

Enos Nkala, acting president of the ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) wing of the Patriotic Front, says communication problems are preventing word of the cease- fire from reaching the guerrillas.

"You are dealing with people who have been in the bush for years," he says. "We have no radios, no mechanized methods of transportation. . . . You can't just say, 'We want a cease-fire tomorrow' and get one."

Reacting to reports of widespread lawlessness in the country, Mr. Nkala claimed that supporters of former Prime Minister Bishop Abel Muzorewa are masquerading as ZANU followers and intimidating the civilian population.

(Bishop Muzorewa, on the other hand, says he has received numerous reports that ZANU followers are doing the intimidating, and has demanded that such abuses stop.)

The debate continues over the alleged presence of South African troops in Rhodesia. Mr. Nkala says "great numbers" of them are still coming into the country, donning government Army and police uniforms, and trying "to create a condition of chaos so that ZANU will be blamed."

That would create a pretext, he says, for South African military intervention. (South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha had earlier warned he would not tolerate "chaos on our border" and said he might be forced to send troops into Rhodesia.)

As the charges and countercharges escalate, pressure is building up on Lord Soames, who reasserted the British Crown's authority over this breakaway colony only last month. Lord Soames continues to keep a low profile as he attempts to bring about a cease-fire and steer the country to majority-rule elections in late February.

But some recent government actions have raised questions about whether Lord Soames really is in charge of the government here or, alternatively, whether he is being impartial in administering the country's affairs.

Earlier this week, for example, a spokesman for Lord Soames claimed that the Governor had dispatched Rhodesian soldiers to the country's borders to deal with alleged cease- fire violations by the Patriotic Front. Later, it emerged that the troops had never, in fact, left the borders -- despite British insistence that all government soldiers had been recalled to bases.

Now, Mr. Nkala claims that government police (who are supposedly under control of Lord Soames) conducted a pre-dawn New Year's Day raid on the Salisbury hotel that is serving as ZANU's temporary offices. According to Mr. Nkala, police broke into the rooms of ZANU officials, forced them about at gunpoint, and arrested two relatives of the late ZANU military commander Josiah Tongogara.

Mr. Nkala says that such actions are prejudicial to free and fair elections and claims, "The whole British machinery is conniving against ZANU."

The Patriotic Front, meanwhile, is attempting to change the timetable for the cease-fire and elections -- and ZANU (the wing headed by Robert Mugabe) is issuing dark threats if the demand is not met.

Both wings of the front are demanding that the deadline to comply with the cease-fire, now set for midnight, Jan. 4, be extended for another six months. This would also set the February elections back for a half year.

Critics of the front claim that this is a clear attempt to forsake the London agreement, which set time limits for the cease-fire and election period. Further, they change that the front simply wants to have more time to intimidate the civilian populace here and thus ensure an electoral victory.

British officials show little inclination to change the date, but Mr. Nkala warns, "We may have to use force" if the demand is not met. He refused to elaborate on his meaning.

Into this steamy political cauldron will soon be added two new catalysts -- front co- leaders Joshua Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe in person. Mr. Mugabe is scheduled to end his exile from Rhodesia on Jan. 5, Mr. Nkomo on Jan. 6.

Their arrivals are expected to set off massive demonstrations in Salisbury, and police control of the gatherings will likely test Lord Soames' neutrality even further.

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