South Africa has accepted the American-mediated agreement for withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. The accord, which was proposed by the United States at talks in Geneva eight days ago, has already been accepted by the Angolan and Cuban governments and should open the way to resolution of the protracted and interrelated conflicts in Angola and Namibia.
South Africa has long insisted - with US backing - on withdrawal of the estimated 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola as a condition for accepting a United Nations peace plan for Namibia.
South Africa's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roelof Botha, informed a press conference of the acceptance last night, calling it ``a very important step'' on a long road. He also cautioned that the road ahead will not be ``all downhill.''
Botha repeatedly stressed the importance of establishing a mutually acceptable ``monitoring mechanism'' to verify the withdrawal of Cuban forces on a phase by phase basis.
He also heavily underlined the need to end Angola's 13-year-old civil war between the Marxist government and rebels of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). ``Peace will not be achieved unless there is national reconciliation in Angola,'' Botha said.
Botha refused to give details of the US withdrawal plan. But the accord is understood to envisage the staged withdrawal of the Cuban troops over 27 months, with the implementation of a UN peace plan for Namibia, as outlined in Security Council Resolution 435 of 1978.
Botha said he does not believe the suggested start date of Jan. 1 for implementation of Resolution 435 is feasible. But, he said, ``it will be for the parties to agree on.''
The UN resolution includes withdrawal of all but 1,000 South African troops from Namibia, followed by a UN-supervised election seven months after implementation of the plan.
Since the UN plan was formulated more than a decade ago, a new military force has emerged in Namibia, the South West African Territorial Force (SWAPO), composed of conscripts from Namibia. Botha declined to speculate on the force's future, saying that was a matter to be resolved jointly by South Africa, the US, Angola, and Cuba.
Botha's announcement of South Africa's acceptance came only hours after a meeting in Pretoria between President Pieter Botha and UNITA leader, Jonas Savimbi.
Botha said that the UNITA leader viewed the US plan as a positive contribution to ``peace and stability'' in Southern Africa provided it was strictly monitored to ensure that Cuban forces did leave Angola.
Asked whether South Africa would continue to support UNITA after a settlement, Botha replied that South Africa would scrupulously honour its treaty obligations. But he added: ``naturally our relationship of good neighborliness (with UNITA) will continue.''
In an interesting remark, Botha spoke of establishing an ``umbrella body'' to act as a ``super court of appeal'' on the verification process for the Cuban troop withdrawal. He proposed that the Soviet Union should be a member of the court, reflecting improved relations between South Africa's Pretoria government and Moscow due to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost (openness).
E. A. Wayne in Washington reports:
Technical experts from the US, Angola, South Africa, and Cuba began several days of confidential meetings late Monday in New York, in anticipation of South Africa's acceptance.
The United Nations is expected to provide monitors for the accord and UN officials are currently participating in the New York talks.
Informed diplomats now expect the final package to be initialed next week in Brazzaville, Congo, and an unscheduled formal signing ceremony would likely follow. At the UN, there is talk of blessing the overall package in early December, possibly during a visit by Mr. Gorbachev.
Actual implementation of the accords will probably not begin until February or March, diplomatic and other sources say.