South Africa, Lesotho agree to undercut each other's rebel threat

Relations between South Africa and Lesotho may be improving after a year of deterioration. South Africa is pleased at Lesotho's apparent harder line on the African National Congress (ANC), some of whose members allegedly operate from Lesotho. Lesotho is pleased that South Africa is clamping down on the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA), which allegedly operates from South Africa.

South Africa is the big winner in the sense that greater compliance from Lesotho fits into its strategy of forcing neighboring black states to help drive the ANC out of the region. The ANC is a black nationalist group seeking to overthrow South Africa's white-minority government.

The South African campaign is working, with the major exception of Mozambique. The loss of the group's regional staging posts would diminish its chances of having any long-term effectiveness.

One sign of better relations is South Africa's recent arrest of eight suspected LLA members. Pretoria has denied that it supports the LLA or knowingly permits it to operate on its soil. But earlier this year, foreign ministers of the two countries agreed that neither side would permit its territory to be used for cross-border strikes.

That rapprochement followed a devastating strike by South Africa into Lesotho last December against alleged ANC members. More than 40 people were killed in that raid, including at least a dozen innocent bystanders.

Relations deteriorated, and Pretoria began to tighten the economic screws on its tiny landlocked neighbor.

The immediate dispute was Lesotho's refusal to expel some former South Africans that Pretoria claimed were ANC members and Lesotho claimed were refugees. South Africa was also angry about Lesotho's warming relations with the East bloc. Lesotho Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan is allowing five communist nations - the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Romania, and Yugoslavia - to open embassies in Lesotho.

Jonathan's flirtation with the East bloc, despite past anticommunist commitments, is seen as a big gamble. One top Africa specialist thinks Lesotho is using the East bloc as a shield against South Africa and a lever for gaining Western development aid.

Tensions eased three months ago when the United Nations tried to reach a compromise on Pretoria's demands Lesotho expel ANC members. Soon after, some persons labeled refugees by Lesotho quietly left the country.

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