Unexplained crash could harm Soviet ties

The still unexplained plane crash that took the life of Mozambique's President may loosen the nation's close ties with Moscow. The late President Samora Machel had been moving to balance the Soviet connection by improving ties with the West. No outright break with Moscow seemed in the offing. Nor, diplomats here say, is such a split likely now.

But private remarks from officials here suggest some suspicion that the crash may have been due to errors by the plane's Soviet crew. Unlike nearby African states, Mozambique has not yet formally charged that South Africa was behind the crash.

One official did say he felt ``the South African military, independently of the government, may have been behind the crash.'' But a higher-ranking official told a Western visitor that pilot error was equally possible.

The South Africans, along with Soviet and Mozambican representatives, have begun an investigation. Pretoria's foreign minister said Tuesday that the Soviets want to take the plane's flight recorder to Moscow for analysis. He said he was probing whether the decoding can be done in South Africa. ``It is not a question of not trusting the Russians,'' he said. ``We want the facts established objectively.''

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