Salisbury, Rhodesia — The exercise is a bit like leading a procession through a gunpowder factory -- and hoping no one decides to make it a torchlight parade. But so far, the cease-fire in this southern AFrican nation remains in effect.
"So far, so good," is the way a spokesman for the British government sums up the operation.
But, he concedes, "it only takes one major incident to burst out" and ignite the potentially explosive situation here.
The fact that such "major incidents" have thus far been avoided -- although sometimes narrowly -- has surprised skeptics. Meanwhile, the process of ending Rhodesia's isolation from the world, and turning it into the black-ruled nation of Zimbabwe, gathers momentum each day the cease-fire holds.
Events are occurring daily that, even a few months ago, would have been considered improbable, if not impossible.
Mozambique and Zambia, neighboring countries that provided staging areas for the Patriotic Front guerrillas attempting the overthrow of the Salisbury government, have now spent diplomatic and military representatives to the Rhodesian capital.
Border crossings between Rhodesia and neighboring countries are being reopened. The Forbes border post at Umtali, once the scene of traffic jams as Rhodesians hurried to seashore vacations in Mozambique, is expected to swing open on Saturday, Jan. 12 -- after mine fields and explosive booby traps on boths sides of the border are exploded or deactivated.
Unused bridges over the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls and Chirundu are expected to relink Rhodesia and Zambia later in the month.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is making plans to repatriate thousands of black Rhodesians who fled their war-torn country. And the United States, once anxious to avoid even the appearance of dealing with Rhodesia, is cautiously stepping up its diplomatic presence here. American government representatives are quietly opening an office in Salisbury, with the establishment of an embassy likely to follow once the country becomes independent of Great Britain.
The Patriotic Front, which launched the guerrilla war some seven years ago, is also opening offices and holding political rallies. As recently as two months ago, such activities would have been grounds for arrest.
But the British, who now have resumed interim control of Rhodesia, are keenly aware that there are some elements that would like to light torches in a gunpowder factory, even if the ensuing conflagration were uncontrollable.
The major threat to peace here, according to the British, is from Patriotic Front forces that have not assembled in cease-fire camps. Some guerrilla bands still are roaming the countryside, committing what one British spokesman calls "violence, banditry, and intimidation" of the civilian populace.
Local experts say most of the renegade guerrillas are members of Robert Mugabe's ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) wing of the front. Almost all the ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People's Union) forces of Joshua Nkomo are believed to have reported to the camps.
Military commanders of both wings joined together Jan. 7 in a call for all remaining guerrillas to join their comrades in the encampments. The commanders estimated that some 2,000 to 3,000 guerrillas were still at large, and promised to lead the effort to round them up "if any of our elements are responsible for any acts to banditry or if they become unruly. . . ."
The front's public show of support for the cease-fire effort masks sometimes bitter behind-the-scenes criticism of british Governor Lord Christopher Soames' running of the country, however.
Both wings of the Patriotic Front blasted his decision to deploy Rhodesian security forces to aid police in dealing with continuing lawlessness in the country. And they are equally scornful of his decision to allow South African troops to remain in Rhodesia during the cease-fire period.
British spokesmen play down the importance of the South African contingent, arguing it is "small" and its duties are restricted to protecting a vital rail and road bridge linking South Africa and Rhodesia.
However, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, earlier promised that all foreign troops would be withdrawn from Rhodesia during the cease-fire and the buildup to the February elections. Despite British assurances that "South Africa will not be allowed to intervene in these elections," the guerrilla organization is unlikely to let the matter rest.