A DISPUTE within the United Nations over its monitoring of Namibia's elections is likely to come to a head this week and could present a sharp setback to an orderly transition to independence for the southern African territory. The immediate issue is whether Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar has fielded a UN force in Namibia sufficiently strong to counter alleged efforts by South Africa to undermine a free and fair election.
On the eve of the Nov. 7-11 polling period, the dominant South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and its supporters contend the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) is grossly understaffed.
A bloc of southern African delegations is demanding a Security Council meeting to condemn South Africa for alleged violations of agreements on Namibia and to demand a buildup in UN troop strength there.
Their principal accusations - many of them supported by the secretary-general, his field staff, and independent investigators - include assertions that South Africa:
Continues to intimidate the Namibian population by covert support of the territorial forces, notably the anti-insurgency Koevoet unit. Some 2,000 Koevoet members, whom Pretoria had agreed to disband, were merely absorbed into other South African units in Namibia and continue their brutal anti-insurgency campaign, Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar said.
Has drafted electoral procedures so complex and unwieldy as to be blatantly unfair to the territory's largely illiterate voters.
Continues to dominate the media, despite assurances from Louis Pienaar, Pretoria's territorial administrator-general, that all political parties would have equal access to air time on state-operated television and radio.
The African delegation's demands present a direct challenge to P'erez de Cu'ellar, who was forced by Western powers, principally Britain and the United States, to keep the military contingent in Namibia to 4,500, well below the 7,500 authorized.
As recently as Oct. 6, the secretary-general reported to the Security Council that ``I am satisfied that the existing strength of the [UNTAG] military component is, for the present, sufficient'' to carry out the mandate.
However, he added: ``I ... will not hesitate to revert to the Security Council if the situation on the ground requires the deployment of additional military personnel to Namibia.''
Only last month, P'erez de Cu'ellar yielded to demands from African delegations to beef up UNTAG's civilian police component. That contingent, charged with maintaining law and order until the scheduled transition to independence next spring, was increased by 500 officers to a total of 1,500.
Now the African bloc and its backers are openly challenging the secretary-general to make good on his pledge of deploying more troops, specifically to the full, authorized strength.
P'erez de Cu'ellar appealed for a moratorium on the Namibia debate until after the November election to avoid exacerbating tensions. Despite offstage grumbling, there was a consensus for acquiescing in his request.
But as the date approached for electing an assembly to draft a constitution in advance of independence, critics of the moratorium grew restive under what they regarded as Pretoria's ongoing violations.
Last Friday, black political leader Jesse Jackson spoke out in the General Assembly about the charges against South Africa, despite the secretary-general's recommendation of silence on the subject. The same day, Susan Dobson, a South African official who fled from her post in Namibia last month, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying she had been part of a covert team set up to manipulate pre-independence elections.
The African National Congress guerrilla movement said Ms. Dobson was also one of its agents and had fled on its orders.