US increases its stake in Namibia dispute

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The Reagan administration appears to have substantially increased its stake in a solution to the protracted dispute over independence for Namibia (South-West Africa).

At a three-way meeting yesterday with Angola and South Africa, the United States committed itself to getting involved - if asked - in a new commission charged with supervising a cease-fire in southern Angola.

Some analysts see this as a sign of Reagan administration confidence that the prospects for a Namibia settlement have suddenly improved.

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Analysts also believe the Reagan administration could be taking a potentially risky step if it were to get involved in a cease-fire without firm prospects of it leading to some tangible gain on the Namibian issue.

The commission that South Africa and Angola have established will jointly monitor southern Angola, where South African troops have been occupying territory since 1981. South Africa last December penetrated deeper into Angola in a strike against the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) guerrillas, who have used southern Angola as a base in their fight against Pretoria for control of Namibia.

Following that strike, South Africa began a ''disengagement'' of its forces from southern Angola. That disengagement has now become a formal cease-fire.

Apparently the terms of the cease-fire call for South Africa to end any military activity in southern Angola, and for Angola to keep SWAPO and Cuban troops stationed in that country north of a specified line.

While the United States is not formally part of the new monitoring commission , South African Foreign Minister Roelof Botha said Thursday the US had agreed to participate in a ''small way'' if asked by both Angola and South Africa. Presumably, the US would get involved if there was a dispute between the Angolans and the South Africans about whether either side was not honoring the cease-fire.

The cease-fire is the first between the combatants in the Namibian dispute. Although there was no formal SWAPO involvement in the cease-fire arrangement and the establishment of the monitoring commission, the Angolans have apparently given assurances that SWAPO will not violate the cease-fire with new action in Namibia.

This cease-fire is not the one called for by the United Nations as part of its plan for Namibian independence. That would involve UN troops and would entail a firm timetable for elections in Namibia.

Still, analysts see the cease-fire as a positive development. There are, however, still some major issues to be resolved before Namibian independence:

Both South Africa and the United States have insisted that the estimated 25, 000 Cuban troops in Angola must be withdrawn before Namibia can become independent.

Some analysts believe the US and South African position may be more flexible on this issue than it appears.

There is speculation that the US and South Africa might consider acceptable a partial withdrawal and a commitment to a further withdrawal of Cubans, rather than a total repatriation before proceeding with implementation of the UN plan for Namibia.

A question observers repeatedly ask is how the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola movement fits in.

UNITA is posing what appears to be a serious military challenge to the Angolan government.

Observers wonder whether Angola would make any commitments on the Cubans while in a somewhat precarious security situation.

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