Failed Namibia talks could have ripple effect in southern Africa

The latest failure to bring peace to Namibia could have a considerable ripple effect, if talks between South Africa and SWAPO rebels were as unproductive as South Africa claims.

The immediate result could be to imperil South Africa's delayed troop withdrawal from southern Angola, analysts here say. Even if the withdrawal goes ahead, there is a strong likelihood that South Africa might go back into that country.

The longer term consequence of the failed talks could be to redirect all efforts toward Namibian independence back along the path set out under a United Nations plan. By all appearances, South Africa will not agree to implementing that plan any time soon.

The surprise talks this week between South Africa and SWAPO (the South West Africa People's Organization) - the first ever one-to-one talks between these antagonists - failed in their main aim of stopping the border war in Namibia. SWAPO uses bases in Angola to stage raids into Namibia, a territory that South Africa occupies but that SWAPO believes its nationalist rebels should control. The United Nations views the South African occupation as illegal.

South Africa was represented at this week's talks in Cape Verde by its administrator-general of Namibia, Willie Van Niekerk.

After reporting back to South African Foreign Minister Roelof Botha Thursday, Dr. Van Niekerk issued a statement saying SWAPO refused South Africa's offer to ''cease hostilities.''

It is unclear what South Africa offered SWAPO in exchange for a cessation of hostilities. Pretoria's game plan apparently has been to try to ''demilitarize'' SWAPO and draw it into a peaceful political role in Namibia. Once SWAPO was reduced to the status of just another political party in Namibia, it would be easier for South Africa to vacate the territory without appearing to have been beaten by a guerrilla movement, analysts say.

These analysts say South Africa's game plan may have included an offer to give SWAPO a role in running Namibia prior to UN-sponsored independence.

But SWAPO apparently rejected whatever South Africa offered. The rejection is consistent with SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma's recent statement that he would not take part in any form of interim government of Namibia.

SWAPO's rejection of any cease-fire with South Africa is in keeping with its longstanding position. SWAPO says it will lay down arms only as a prelude to implementation of the United Nations plan for Namibian independence.

SWAPO is expected by most observers to win any free election in Namibia and recognizes that its political fortunes are probably best served by continuing to fight South Africa until the elections.

However, there have been developments that have led some observers to conclude that SWAPO's military options may be running out.

The main development in that regard is the withdrawal agreement South Africa signed with Angola in February. South Africa agreed to pull its troops out of southern Angola if SWAPO and Cuban troops are kept out of the border zone.

Angola wants South Africa off its soil and has cooperated militarily in keeping SWAPO from the areas being vacated by South Africa.

However, South Africa says SWAPO has begun reinfiltrating southern Angola. For that reason, Pretoria's troops have not taken the final step of withdrawal, and remain about 25 miles inside Angola.

Absent assurances from SWAPO that it will stop border incursions, South Africa must decide whether to stay in Angola or to rely on Angola to police SWAPO.

Foreign Minister Botha now says that if SWAPO launches more attacks into Namibia, South Africa would ''take appropriate and effective steps'' in retaliation. In that past, that has meant sending troops into Angola.

On the broader question of Namibian independence, South Africa still insists the UN plan cannot be implemented until some 25,000 Cuban troops leave Angola. But Angola does not yet seem ready to send them home.

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