UN, South Africa edge closer on Namibia independence plan

South Africa and the United Nations appear to be edging closer to agreement on an independence plan for Namibia (South-West Africa). UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, according to some analysts here, has made a number of concessions to South Africa in an effort to speed up independence for the former Germany colony.

The South Africans are expected to take another three to five weeks before replying to Mr. Waldheim, in what has become a drawn-out diplomatic fencing match between this country and the UN.

Nevertheless, some progress appears to have been made in the latest round of give-and-take.

In a letter to South Africa Foreign Minister Roelof F. Botha, Mr. Waldheim has agreed to the presence of 20 South African military bases in a proposed demilitarized zone straddling Namibia's northern border with Angola and Zambia. That represents a somewhat lopsided compromise, since it is half of the 40 bases orginally demanded by South Africa, but 10 times as many as the two originally envisioned by UN strategists.

The demilitarized zone would separate South African troops and guerrillas of the black nationalist South-West Africa Peoples' Organization (SWAPO) during elections to choose drafters of an independence constitution for the mineral-rich territory.

In his letter, Mr. Waldheim urged South Africa to set a date quickly for a cease-fire in the territory, and begin implementation of a seven-month-long UN-sponsored plan for bringing about the elections. implementation of the plan has been stalled ever since South Africa agreed in principle to the territory's independence in April 1978.

The latest communication from Mr. Waldheim seeks to answer a number of questions South Africa has raised about details of the plan. In the letter, he assured South Africa that UN personnel would be completely impartial in supervising the election, despite a UN General Assembly resolution recognizing SWAPO as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Namibian people.

Mr. Waldheim also assured South Africa that SWAPO no longer was claiming the right to have its own bases inside Namibia during the cease-fire period. But he turned down a South AFrican request to have UN troops monitor SWAPO bases in neighboring countries, noting "the governments of Angola and Zambia have reassured me that no infiltration of armed SWAPO personnel will take place from their territory into Namibia after the cease-fire."

He added that these countries would aid in the closing of Swapo bases and the possible disarming of SWAPO guerrillas after the election.

Mr. Waldheim also said that his letter "should resolve the issues which have stood in the way" of implementation of the peace plan.

But South African government sources were less enthusiastic. Some said it would take time to study the letter and prepare a response. Others indicated that South Africa might ask for further clarification of some points of the plan -- a move that would undoubtedly fuel charges that Pretoria is "stalling" on independence for the territory.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.