South African peace proposal: serious bid or tactical move?

South Africa has dramatically put forward a detailed plan for resolving the Namibia-Angola dispute. The question is whether the plan is more than a rhetorical flourish aimed at gaining short-term public relations advantage, say sources involved in the ongoing negotiations.

Cuba's delegation to the current round of talks in Geneva yesterday rejected the South African proposal as a ``preposterous and unrealistic'' attempt at ``setting compulsory dates for the withdrawal of Cuban troops'' from Angola.

Indeed, the United States mediators were busy trying to keep the talks on track after South Africa broke an agreed press blackout Tuesday to disclose its proposal. Cuba publicly complained about the violation, and Washington sources say the US shares this irritation.

``This caused a lot of immediate tensions,'' says one informed source, but Cuba and Angola made clear ``they want progress'' and will continue to talk. The current round is slated to end today.

The US is refusing to comment on the plan saying that as a mediator it should only offer views at the negotiating table. But officials say for the talks to succeed there must be give and take by both sides.

``South Africa has for the first time offered a date for pulling out of Namibia under the 10 months mandated by the United Nations plan,'' says a well-placed source. ``This proposal is probably not what we'll end up with, but it appears to be South Africa's opening bid.''

The challenge for US mediators is to test the sincerity of the offer and turn it into a positive boost for the process.

The plan, announced Tuesday by South Africa's foreign minister, calls for a cease-fire to begin Aug. 10 and for the withdrawal of the about 3,000 South African troops from southern Angola by Sept. 1. The UN plan for granting independence to neighboring Namibia would go into effect on Nov. 1, South Africa suggests; all South African troops would leave that country by June 1, 1989.

South Africa proposes that the about 50,000 Cuban troops also leave Angola by next June. Cuba and Angola have offered a four-year withdrawal but have said this is negotiable.

The South African plan also calls for the closing of seven African National Congress bases in Angola where guerrillas are trained for operations against South Africa. The South Africans see this as a quid pro quo for Angola's request that South Africa stop supporting the UNITA antigovernment guerrillas in Angola. Sources say this demand flows from the July 20 agreement by Angola, Cuba, and South Africa to the principle of noninterference in each other's domestic affairs.

Washington sources have conflicting views of South Africa's proposal. Some say it is typical of South Africa to seek a tactical advantage, without thinking through the broader strategic costs. They fear the move is designed to muddy the waters while seeming to be forthcoming.

The more optimistic view is that this is an opening bid intended to jolt the other side and create maximum advantage for an eventual pullout from Namibia.

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