Now the `nitty gritty' on Namibia-Angola. Two sets of talks in Geneva look to turn principles into action

Angola and Namibia are in the spotlight this week. Today senior United States and Soviet specialists on Africa are finishing two days of talks in Geneva. Tomorrow the fourth round of US-mediated negotiations among Cuba, Angola, and South Africa begins there.

``All the parties are making positive statements and seem motivated to find a solution,'' a top US official says. But Cuba, Angola, and South Africa all have ``fundamental decisions'' yet to make for the process to succeed, another senior US official adds.

In the talks beginning tomorrow, the US will try to guide the three countries into the ``nitty gritty'' of a plan to withdraw Cuban and South African troops from the region, the top official says. The parties will also look closely at what is needed to carry out the United Nations plan for Namibia's independence.

The situation in southwest Africa is extremely complex, involving a civil war in Angola, South African and Cuban intervention in Angola, and South Africa's colonial rule of Namibia. The Geneva talks will address disengagement of troops from Angola and Namibian independence. But they will not formally discuss Angola's civil war.

``Since the June 26 clash between Cuban and South African forces, the political talks have provided an umbrella for calming the battlefield,'' the top US official says. But while the foreign combatants are quiet, he adds, ``the guerrilla war continues.''

Reports reaching Washington Friday indicated that the antigovernment UNITA rebels (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) had captured the town of Bialundo near the strategic Benguela railroad in central Angola. This follows UNITA attacks on the city of Huambo nearby.

``This shows it shouldn't be forgotten we need to deal with national reconciliation'' the top official says. ``We can negotiate a peace between Cuba, Angola, and South Africa, but it doesn't mean peace will come to Angola.''

National reconciliation in Angola and the US-mediated peace process are on the table at US-Soviet talks led by Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker and his Soviet counterpart, Anatoly Adamishin. The superpowers are aiming for a set of agreements by Sept. 29 on the phased withdrawal of all foreign troops from the area.

Mr. Crocker is reportedly urging the Soviets to press the Angolan government to begin some sort of process to negotiate an end to the civil strife. The US believes that a reconciliation process must move in parallel with the international peace effort if either one is to succeed.

Without a solution, US officials say they are committed to continuing covert aid to UNITA as long as the Soviets continue to provide military aid to Angola's government. Key legislators are urging the administration not to neglect UNITA in the rush to get an international agreement on troop withdrawals.

Crocker is reportedly also asking his Soviet counterpart to encourage Cuba and Angola to reduce the four-year time frame they have proposed for withdrawing the 45,000 to 50,000 Cuban troops now in Angola.

This issue is central to reaching agreement in the four-party talks, US officials say. South Africa is demanding that the Cuban troop pullout more closely match its own withdrawal from Namibia. Under the UN plan for Namibia, South Africa must withdraw its forces in less than a year. Since few would want to reopen the Pandora's box of renegotiating the UN plan, the only place for movement is in the Cuban-Angolan timetable.

US officials say a tremendous amount of negotiating lies ahead as the parties try to move from the general principles arrived at 10 days ago to detailed agreements on mutual obligations and the means to verify them.

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