S. Africa launches far-reaching Namibia campaign

The border war in northern Namibia has suddenly intensified dramatically. South African forces have mounted an intensive campaign against South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) guerrillas and now say they will not stop until they have smashed that organization's armed forces.

In the past 10 days, more than 120 SWAPO guerrillas have been reported killed. South African forces have acknowledged the death of three of their own men, and the loss of one aircraft downed by a Russian-made SAM-7 missile.

The South Africans also claim to have captured 21 tons of SWAPO arms, ammunition, and equipment and to have destroyed a mobile motor workshop in southern Angola.

The sudden surge of seek-and-destroy operations comes at a time of relatively muted diplomatic activity to try to find an internationally acceptable political settlement for Namibia.

But there are indications that there is growing impatience inside the territory with the present lack of progress.

Certain political leaders there are calling on South Africa to hand over more power at once to the Namibian Council of Ministers, a body that came into being as a result of multi- racial elections in the territory organized by South Africa in 1978, but not recognized as valid outside Namibia or South Africa.

One group at least has publicly called for full independence of Namibia from South Africa before the end of this year.

A South African-appointed administrator- general is the highest authority in the territory at present.

This week the officer commanding the South West African Territory Force, South African Maj. Gen. Charles Lloyd, indicated that the 15-year-old border war appeared to be entering a new phase.

He said that his forces had recently undertaken "an intensive study" of the methods that had been used against SWAPO guerrillas, and had decided to make certain "adjustments."

He declined to say what these were, except that "our cooperation with the Air Forces is outstanding, and our coordination with the local police is very good."

Now the "aim of the security forces is to end the war and to bring peace. The best way to do this is to destroy terrorists inside the territory, to pursue them if they flee, and to wipe them out in their bases.

"We shall continue in this way until SWAPO's military power is smashed."

One interpretation of South Africa's present military tactics is that it intends to establish a buffer zone north of the Namibia- Angola border.

General Lloyd has said, "We are not allowing SWAPO to establish bases within striking distance of Namibia."

Among those captured during the engagements the past few days are a man named John Angula, said to be the chief of artillery for SWAPO on its "northern front, " and SWAPO's unnamed "chief of reconnaissance for the northern front."

According to reports from Radio Luanda quoted in South Africa, the South African forces penetrated about 110 miles inside Angola in pursuit of SWAPO forces, but General Lloyd told reporters this week that the thrust "did not go that far."

Apart from claiming to have inflicted heavy losses on SWAPO forces, the South African forces believe they have scored a psychological and political advantage as well.

Operations commander Brig. Rudolf Badenhorst told reporters that the local population in northern Namibia now regarded the security forces "far more positively."

He claimed this was because people were tired of "crimes by the terrorists and the use of land mines" and because the "security forces once again have the image of being the strong man."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.