Cape Town — The South African government is keeping its citizens in the dark about the extent of what may be its biggest military involvement in neighboring Angola in years.
According to a Reuters report from Lisbon, Angola is mobilizing its armed forces after reporting a major incursion by two South African armed columns with air support. Angola has appealed to the United Nations to intervene to force South Africa to withdraw.
The only indication of what South African forces might be doing north of the Namibian border are coming from foreign sources, mainly originating from the Angolan government, and released through the Angolan news agency Angop.
Even the government-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation, which runs all radio and television services in the country, is having to use overseas reports.
The South African Defense Force has disclosed, however, that eight security force men have been killed in action "on the border" while claiming the deaths of 14 members of the South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO).
News of the strike into Angola came first in a radio news broadcast midday Tuesday.
Afternoon editions of the country's main newspapers splashed the news across their pages.
Asked if the overseas reports of military action were true, the South African Defense Force said only that "it could not be expected to react to comment or quote on every claim" about alleged South African Defense Force involvement.
The spokesman did add, however, that "it is common knowledge that we do engage in followup operations against SWAPO, even if it does mean crossing the border. When we do, we try to avoid contact or confrontation with the Angolan forces."
If overseas reports are correct, the present engagement is the biggest assault the South African forces have launched since the war in Angola in 1975.
Because the South African Defense Force declined at first to admit anything untoward was going on, this has put some local newspapers in a quandary about how to report the news.
Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Pieter Botha, who was previously also minister of defense, denied in the all-white South African Parliament that South Africa is engaged in any large-scale invasion.
Meanwhile, the head of the South African-controlled South-West African Territory Force, Maj. Gen. Charles Lloyd, said in Windhoek that "I should like once more to repeat . . . that South Africa will de everything in its power to live in peace and as good neighbors with surrounding countries.
"These countries have been warned that good neighborliness is incompatible with the support of terrorists or providing them with sanctuary."