South African raid into Angola could heat up region's conflicts
Johannesburg — South Africa's deep military incursion into Angola, now almost a month old, is likely to prolong the stay of Cuban troops in that country, analysts here say.
The raid also has more potential for escalating regional conflict than any of the cross-border strikes South Africa has mounted since the pattern of strikes was established in 1978, these analysts say. This, they say, is because Angola is feeling heavy pressure both from South African troops and from its own civil war. In this situation, Angola might ask for more Soviet or Cuban assistance, observers say.
Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos reportedly has called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council and warned that the South African incursion could have ''unforeseen consequences.'' Western intelligence sources estimate there are at least 25,000 Cuban troops in Angola now.
South Africa launched its raid on Dec. 6 to thwart an alleged incursion into Namibia (South-West Africa) by guerrillas of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO).
SWAPO operates from bases in southern Angola. It aims to dislodge South Africa from Namibia, a territory Pretoria has administered - illegally in the eyes of the United Nations - since 1966.
The latest South African raid comes against a backdrop of renewed diplomatic activity toward resolving the Namibian issue. Close observers see this activity as an attempt to give new momentum to the issue, which they consider dangerously stalled.
Apparently out of frustration with lack of progress on Namibia, France recently said it would no longer participate in meetings of the so-called ''contact group'' of Western powers established in 1978 to seek independence for Namibia. The remaining partners in the contact group had included the United States, Canada, West Germany, and Britain.
Many international observers believe France will not really pull out of the group. But Paris has been particularly critical of the concept of ''linkage,'' whereby South Africa has insisted - with the backing of the US - that it would not surrender control of Namibia until the Cubans leave Angola.
South Africa has said that all the other major issues necessary for Namibian independence as outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 435 have been addressed. But the Cuban issue remains a major obstacle.
Some observers are skeptical that South Africa genuinely wants the Cubans out when its raids into Angola may only entrench - or even increase - Angola's perceived need for outside military assistance. Also, Pretoria provides assistance to the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels, who are stepping up their internal campaign against the Angolan regime. UNITA's successes are also seen as working against a Cuban withdrawal.
The way a number of political analysts in South Africa see it, it is more a matter of Pretoria having conflicting goals. John Barratt of the South African Institute of International Affairs suggests Pretoria may be of two minds - with the South African Defense Force wanting to annihilate SWAPO and press its advantage in Angola and the nation's Department of Foreign Affairs seeking a diplomatic solution that would allow for the exodus of Cuban troops and advisers.
''I'm not sure there is any single, grand strategy.'' he says.
South Africa's foreign minister, Roelof Botha, last month offered to ''disengage'' South African troops from southern Angola for a trial period as long as the Angolan regime, SWAPO, and the Cubans did not ''exploit'' the situation and ''threaten the inhabitants'' of Namibia. Angola and SWAPO rejected the offer.
The United States welcomed the offer, and there is some hope in diplomatic circles that it might at least open a dialogue for a possible South African-Angolan cease-fire.
But the timing of the offer made some observers skeptical about Pretoria's intentions and Angola's ability to respond positively. The offer came a few days after South African troops had mounted their raid into Angola.
''No one could have expected (the disengagement offer) to be accepted'' by Angola, Mr. Barratt says.
The South African Defense Force claims up to 1,000 SWAPO insurgents were ready to infiltrate Namibia. South African aircraft have struck 180 miles into Angola at a SWAPO regional headquarters near Lugango, and ground forces have penetrated at least 125 miles, according to Pretoria. South Africa says it has engaged both Angolan and Cuban troops.
The operation is the largest since South Africa's invasion in late 1981, and the South African Defense Force claims that at least 56 members of SWAPO have been killed, along with 14 of its own troops .
Gen. Constand Viljoen of the South African Defense Force has given no hint at when the operation will be concluded.