Namibia talks may be first step in ending S. African isolation

This week's mini-summit between South Africa's administrator of Namibia and SWAPO is seen here as significant - in its own right and as a scene-setter for South African Prime Minister Pieter Botha's June visit to Western Europe.

Mr. Botha's visit to Britain, West Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium, and possibly other countries is a bid by South Africa to reverse more than 30 years of growing international isolation.

For South Africa, the trip itself is a victory. But analysts here say its impact will be enhanced if it follows real progress toward independence for Namibia (South-West Africa). And these analysts say the talks on Namibia, which are being held in Lusaka, Zambia, have considerable potential for progress.

Optimism about the talks springs from the more concessionary attitude both South Africa and the South West African Peoples Organization (SWAPO), which is fighting for control of Namibia, appear to have adopted.

Each party is allowing the other to characterize the talks in its own manner. SWAPO insists the talks represent direct negotiations with Pretoria. South Africa says it is simply chairing a meeting between SWAPO and a group of other political parties in Namibia, the so-called Multiparty Conference.

''Each side is ignoring the other's pretensions,'' a diplomatic source says.

SWAPO president Sam Nujoma said he would press in the talks for a cease-fire with South Africa. The Pretoria government has already denied SWAPO some military bases. It has done this with an agreement that requires Angola to prevent SWAPO rebels from moving back into an area that South African forces would vacate.

Some analysts feel a cease-fire in the territory may be within reach, although not the formal one called for under a United Nations Security Council plan for Namibian independence.

The possibility of a cease-fire outside the UN plan has raised speculation that South Africa and SWAPO might be angling for an independence plan that bypasses the UN blueprint.

However, in advance of the talks, Mr. Nujoma and South Africa have separately reaffirmed their support for the UN approach. Informed analysts here still expect South Africa to abide by the basic thrust of the UN plan. But these analysts say Pretoria may well be willing to make deviations - such as a locally supervised cease-fire - that would enhance the impression that South Africa is merely letting the people of Namibia decide their own future. Pretoria is loath to appear to surrender Namibia to SWAPO but insists it will abide by any agreement worked out by all the Namibian political parties.

The UN plan for Namibia still appears stuck on the Cuban issue. South Africa has insisted that before it will implement the UN plan, there must be an agreement on Cuban withdrawal from Angola. Diplomatic sources say resolving that issue is likely to be a lengthy process.

(Some news reports say that Cuba has told Angola it opposes a phased withdrawal of Cuban troops at this time because a settlement would be a boon to President Reagan's election campaign.)

A settlement in Namibia is a top priority of the West, and progress on the issue will ease Botha's acceptance in Europe.

The basic reason for South Africa's estrangement from the West is the white-minority government's racial policies, which institutionalize discrimination and deny the black majority any meaningful rights.

But Botha's regional peace initiatives - including a nonaggression pact with Mozambique and a disengagement of South African forces from Angola, expected to be completed before the European tour - have opened doors in Europe, say analysts here. Botha's new Constitution, which brings Coloreds (people of mixed-race descent) and Indians into separate chambers of Parliament, may also have persuaded some Europeans that meaningful change is beginning in South Africa, even though blacks remain excluded from the new Parliament.

In Britain, however, Botha's visit is already stirring strong protest. Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock said that by agreeing to see Botha, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was ''batting for apartheid.'' London anti-apartheid groups have promised public demonstrations.

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