Disputes over Cuban troops stymie Angola-Namibia talks
Intensive diplomatic efforts are under way to try to jolt free the United States-mediated talks on Angola and Namibia. After substantial progress earlier this year, Cuban and Angolan officials are now talking about an ``impasse.''Skip to next paragraph
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The last session, held earlier this month in New York, was not fruitful.
``It won't help to get together again unless everybody is going to be flexible and creative,'' says one participant.
The US mediators say agreement is still achievable. They have been trying to move the talks forward by Nov. 1, but that now looks less and less likely.
South Africa has agreed to that date for implementing the United Nations independence plan for Namibia. But the commitment was made contingent on reaching agreement on the withdrawal of the estimated 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola. Thus, the current hangup.
Concern is growing in Washington that the talks not lose steam. Well-placed administration sources say that if Nov. 1 passes without agreement or substantial progress, key players inside South Africa might argue that they are off the hook on Namibia. People in both camps might begin to assign blame for the delay.
While some US specialists say South Africa was always hedging on Namibia, there is agreement that the talks have now reached the basic strategic decisions. And that makes the going tough for everyone.
While Angola and Cuba are currently saying they have reached the limits of their flexibility, all parties are testing one another and keeping a sharp eye on their domestic constituencies.
Even the Reagan administration faces domestic pressure. Fifty-one senators wrote President Reagan this week urging that a final solution not neglect the need for national reconciliation in Angola, and that the US not prematurely cut off military aid to the UNITA guerrillas battling the Angolan government.
Current sticking points in the talks revolve around the withdrawal from and redeployment of Cuban troops in Angola. But hanging over these issues is a vital wild card not formally on the bargaining table - national reconciliation in Angola to end the 13-year civil war.
The following summary of where the parties stand on the issues is based on conversations with participants in the talks.
Timetable for Cuban withdrawal. The Cubans and Angolans want 30 months; South Africa has agreed to a US suggestion of 24. Cuba says it needs the time to train Angolan soldiers to assume its soldiers' duties - and to transport its troops home and reintegrate them into society. A slower pullout by Angola's Cuban allies would also give the government extra security against UNITA and South African backsliding on the agreement. Insiders in the talks say that South Africa (and UNITA) can probably live with 30 months, provided the residual number of Cubans is small enough.
Initial withdrawal. The Cubans and Angolans are offering a withdrawal of 2,000 Cuban troops at the time the peace plan goes into effect and an easily reversible redeployment of troops northward as confidence-building measures. The South Africans want a much bigger initial pullout (8,000) and redeployment farther north. Pretoria wants to reassure white Namibians and its own electorate that the agreement is sincere, since all South African troops would leave Namibia in seven months under the UN plan and be replaced by a UN peacekeeping force.
Front-loading. The Cubans oppose taking too many troops out, too quickly. Out of nationalist concern, they don't want to rely on Soviet or other shipping to take their troops home. And they don't want to create the image of retreat by pulling out too quickly. A rapid withdrawal would also interfere with plans to train Angolan units. In addition, if the Angolan civil war went poorly, the Cubans would not want to have a small number of troops left at risk.