Turning point in southern Africa

MOMENTUM continues to build toward a peaceful resolution of the Angolan conflict in southern Africa. Negotiators from South Africa, Cuba, and Angola have reached an agreement in Geneva, which now goes to their governments for final approval. A process stretching over eight years is thus nearing fulfillment, but complexities remain, and the peace effort will need careful tending in coming weeks and months. Diplomats from the United States and the Soviet Union are likely to continue in crucial mediating roles. Superpower cooperation in ending a regional conflict has, in fact, been a welcome offshoot of the negotiations.

The accord provides for withdrawal of some 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola and a long-overdue end to South African control of neighboring Namibia. For years, the Cubans have bolstered Angola's leftist government against rebel forces of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and their South African allies. Until now, a timetable for Cuban withdrawal had been a persistent sticking point, but the Geneva conferees worked out a compromise of 27 months. If all goes well, the accord could be signed next month and take effect as early as Jan. 1.

What problems remain? First, relationships between the Angolan government and UNITA. Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos says he is willing to accept the rebels as partners in government, but not their leader, Jonas Savimbi. There are reports, however, that Mr. dos Santos and Mr. Savimbi may be ready to talk.

Second, there are differences of opinion in Pretoria. South Africa's military leaders are less enthusiastic about pulling out of Namibia than its diplomats, and their viewpoints could have an impact. More likely, however, a political consensus within South Africa that the time has come to leave will prevail. The South African economy has hit rough seas, and administration of Namibia is a drain on resources, as were the military forays into Angola to support UNITA.

Also, President Pieter Botha seems intent on improving South Africa's image both within Africa and before the rest of the world. Allowing Namibia to begin its journey toward independence is an unavoidable part of this effort.

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