Southern Africa thaw raises hopes for Namibian independence

The long-running effort to obtain independence for Namibia (South-West Africa) now could succeed ''sooner than expected'' but ''following an unorthodox scenario.''

According to this account by well-placed diplomats here, the Namibian guerrilla group SWAPO (South-West Africa Peoples' Organization) may come to terms with South Africa on its own.

As a result of the Lusaka conference last month between Angola and South Africa (with the United States acting as broker), South Africa will pull its troops out of Angola by the end of March. Angola will not allow SWAPO to launch guerrilla operations into Namibia, and SWAPO has agreed to respect the cease-fire. Then, in April, a symbolic departure of a few thousand Cuban ''combat'' troops from Angola might be announced as a token of Angolan sincerity.

Theoretically, the next step would be the deployment in Namibia of a UN force , UN supervised elections, and the proclamation of Namibia's independence before the end of the year. There is no guarantee, however, that the South Africa-Angola disengagement would actually lead to implementation of the UN plan.

''SWAPO fears that Angola and South Africa . . . may well have decided to stop fighting each other while freezing the Namibian problem indefinitely,'' says one well-placed source. ''To avoid being pushed off the cliff, SWAPO is now considering striking a deal of its own with South Africa.''

According to this scenario, SWAPO may agree to take part in a Multi-Party Conference in Namibia along with the internal, South Africa-controlled parties. The conference is expected to draw up a constitution acceptable to both South Africa and to the ''contact group'' (United States, Britain, West Germany, Canada, France).

Since SWAPO and South Africa have stopped fighting, there would be no need for the deployment in Namibia of a UN force. The UN plan would be carried out, so to speak, without the UN's direct participation but with a subsequent UN stamp of approval.

SWAPO would give up its dreams of becoming the dominant force in Namibia in the near future and settle for a more modest role, hoping to expand it later.

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