S. Africa's hopes for quick Namibia settlement fade with SWAPO strike

As summer gives way to colder days here in the Southern Hemisphere, so has the quest for independence for Namibia (South-West Africa) undergone a climatic change.

The optimism that grew following the latest international initiative begun last October is now fading. And as the independence talks lose momentum, many analysts here have come to believe the initiative to make Namibia a sovereign nation will be, at best, a slow, grinding process.

At worst, analysts say, the initiative could begin to dissolve, as have earlier efforts.

The seriousness of the border war was brought home to South Africans with a recent raid by SWAPO (South-West Africa People's Organization) guerrillas into Namibia, in which eight soldiers were killed.

The incident jolted South Africans, whose military forces have dominated the border war since last August, when South African troops routed SWAPO forces based in Angola.

The assessment here is that in venturing further south than they have in some time, SWAPO was making a public statement that it has regrouped and is rededicated to an armed struggle for Namibian independence.

The latest military confrontation comes amid signs that international negotiations are in a hiatus. SWAPO and African ''frontline'' states have not accepted a voting system put forward by the Western ''contact group.''

Lack of agreement on a voting plan for Namibia -- a plan recently amended by the contact group to address SWAPO's concern that it was too complicated -- has dampened, if not ended, hopes here that a settlement could be implemented this year.

While SWAPO has called an earlier voting plan too complicated, analysts believe SWAPO is equally worried that it might not gain a two-thirds majority in an assembly.

For its part, South Africa shows new eagerness to get on with a Namibia settlement. Minister of Foreign Affairs Roelof ''Pik'' Botha recently sent copies of a publication to fellow National Party members in which he was quoted as saying the current Namibia initiative was a ''last chance.''

Other analysts point out South Africa has not yet faced some of the issues it will find most troublesome, such as who will supervise an election.

Political analysts here say South Africa looks upon a Namibian settlement as the one issue that could cement warmer relations with the United States. Prime Minister P. W. Botha is also seen as having more maneuverability on the Namibian issue since his right-wing critics split from the National Party.

However, the political situation here is fluid. And a conservative backlash on Botha's power-sharing proposal could dampen his enthusiasm for a Namibia settlement.

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