Prospects for Namibian independence may be shifting into a higher gear

Efforts to obtain the independence of Namibia have shifted into a higher gear and are following an unexplored direction, say diplomats involved in the process.

The South West African People's Organization is looking into the possibility of striking a deal with South Africa and with six illegal internal parties of Namibia (South-West Africa). SWAPO has fought South Africa, which occupies Namibia in defiance of the United Nations, for 18 years. Since 1973, the United Nations General Assembly has considered SWAPO ''to be the sole legitimate representative of the Namibian people.''

This week, high-level SWAPO representatives, including its top man, Sam Nujoma, are expected to meet in Lusaka, Zambia, with a high-level South African delegation (possibly including South Africa Foreign Minister Roelof Botha). Representatives of the Multiparty Conference, which includes the six main Namibia internal parties, will also attend, and Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda is to play host.

This will be the second face-to-face meeting between SWAPO and South African representatives. The first took place in 1981 in Geneva where the UN had arranged for indirect talks between all the parties involved in the Namibian problem. These talks broke down when the South Africans walked out on them.

A possible scenario as a result of this week's meeting could include the following, says one diplomat:

* A cease-fire between South Africa and SWAPO.

* A constitution for Namibia drafted and agreed upon by the Multiparty Conference and SWAPO. The constitution would, at least in part, take into account provisions for protection of minorities and of private property, both contained in the charter adopted by the Multiparty Conference on April 18. If SWAPO accepts the constitution, it would then be approved by the Western ''contact group'' (Canada, United States, Britain, France, West Germany) that has tried to negotiate a Namibian independence agreement and by the UN Security Council.

According to UN Security Council Resolution 435, elections in Namibia must take place before a constitution is drafted. But to some observers this is tantamount to putting the cart before the ox.

* Gradual implementation of the UN plan, with a cease-fire, vote, and withdrawal of South African troops.

''By accepting to go along with this solution, SWAPO would give up its hopes to be, in the short run, the dominant force in Namibia and satisfy itself with the role of a junior partner. It could hope in this way with time to increase its influence in the country,'' says an official who has been watching the Namibian peace process for years.

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