UN chief visits Namibia, but early settlement unlikely

A new push for a settlement in Namibia (South-West Africa) is being eclipsed by rising trouble in Angola, now widely considered to be the real crisis spot of southern Africa.

United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar visits the region next week with a limited mandate to seek independence for Namibia. But the Namibia conflict increasingly appears hostage to developments in troubled Angola.

And the escalating Angolan war, its role in the US-Soviet rivalry, and South Africa's contentment with events there all weigh against the UN official making substantial gains on the Namibia issue, analysts here say.

Namibia and Angola are connected issues in the regional dispute and have become more overtly so as a result of the West's diplomatic approach to freeing Namibia from South African control. The United States - a leader of the West's negotiating team that includes France, Britain, West Germany and Canada - insists that the 20,000 to 30,000 Cuban troops in Angola be withdrawn as part of a Namibia settlement package. South Africa also presses this as a settlement condition.

The other key Namibia-Angola connection is that the black nationalist South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) forces fighting Pretoria for control of Namibia are based in southern Angola.

On the military front, South Africa has successfully pushed the war in Namibia beyond its borders into Angola.

Pretoria's growing military influence in southern Angola has an added bonus. It facilitates South Africa's widely acknowledged support of the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) movement fighting the Angolan government.

This week, Angola acknowledged what some regard as the most serious defeat yet to UNITA. Angolan troops were forced to withdraw from Cangamba, one of the last government-held positions in southeast Angola.

Angola charged South Africa played a key role in the battle, dropping napalm bombs and ferrying in South African troops, mercenaries, and UNITA. Pretoria denied this.

UNITA reportedly already controls about a third of Angola, and each military success sends rumbles throughout southern Africa.

Africa specialist John Marcum of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who recently visited South Africa, says it appears clear that ''the more successes UNITA has, the more likely the Cubans will stay.''

Some analysts think UNITA's leader, Jonas Savimbi, wants only to pressure the Angolan government into negotiations that would give him a role in the government.

The way Professor Marcum sees it, ''There is no real solution short of some kind of reconciliation.'' But he says military gains might at some point become counterproductive. ''If UNITA is so successful that it pushed (the government) back to Luanda, it could escalate into an international confrontation'' by drawing in the Soviets, he says.

The US has held many talks with the Angolans, and recently presented a plan for removal of Cuban troops that would coincide with some form of South African withdrawal from Angola. It also calls for South Africa's pullout from Namibia as the territory gained independence. But it is unclear what the US can offer the Angolans to ensure their security once the Cubans depart. As UNITA gains strength, that issue becomes more crucial.

Skeptics also wonder why South Africa would go along with a plan that could require them to leave Angola just when UNITA is doing so well. Why go along with a settlement that might lead to a socialist government?

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