S. African Raid in Angola Dims Namibia Pact Hopes
What little hope remained for an American-brokered agreement on independence for Namibia may have died in the abortive South African raid on Angola’s Cabinda oil fields.
Angola has told South Africa through the United States that it is breaking off negotiations on Namibia and related questions, including the withdrawal of Cuban troops from its territory, because of the May 21 raid.
South Africa has described the operation as a military reconnaissance patrol and not a sabotage mission. It has suggested that it may now push for settlement of the Namibian issue outside the framework of a U.N. resolution on the territory’s future--and perhaps without the South-West Africa People’s Organization, the Namibian nationalist organization that Angola supports.
And the Reagan Administration, whose policy of “constructive engagement” has been under increasing attack in the United States because of South Africa’s apartheid system of racial segregation, now finds itself with a partner in Pretoria that it regards as not fully trustworthy.
“We are looking at the dark side, and it is hard to see how the Namibian negotiations can survive all this,” said a senior Western diplomat who closely follows efforts to bring the territory, administered by South Africa and also known as South-West Africa, to independence under a 1978 U.N. Security Council plan.
“Negotiations were already stalemated, not going anywhere despite a new American compromise proposal, and this (the raid and reaction to it) destroys chances for any early movement,” he said. “If the United States cannot deliver soon, the danger is that everyone will start looking for another approach.”
Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha, disclosing the Angolan decision to break off negotiations, said last week that his government “is no longer sure to what extent this goal (of Namibian independence under U.N. auspices) remains attainable” and is uncertain whether “worthwhile negotiations can still be conducted.”
Botha said that South Africa will consult not only with the United States and possibly other Western governments but also with Namibian political parties participating in the interim government that will be installed in the territory June 17.
Botha’s implicit threat was that Pretoria might simply ignore international opinion and proceed with an “internal settlement” with those parties, rather than with the guerrillas of the South-West Africa People’s Organization, who have fought a 19-year guerrilla war against South African rule.
Botha met here Monday with U.S. Ambassador Herman Nickel and reaffirmed South Africa’s willingness to implement the U.N. plan for Namibian independence “if agreement is reached on the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
South Africa demands that all 30,000 Cuban troops be pulled out before Namibian independence. Angola has proposed a gradual withdrawal of 20,000 Cubans, with the rest left to guard Luanda, the capital, and the oil-rich Cabinda enclave. An American compromise, suggesting a phased but faster withdrawal and still allowing some Cuban forces to remain, has won neither Angolan nor South African acceptance.
Botha accused Angola of using the Cabinda clash two weeks ago “as a pretext for breaking off negotiations on the question of Cuban withdrawal.” But in a more conciliatory tone than was used last week, he told Nickel that if this impression is mistaken, then Angola could “easily . . . correct (it) . . . by stating that it would continue discussions with a view to resolving the problem of Cuban withdrawal.”
He also reiterated South Africa’s warning when it withdrew its last combat units from southern Angola in mid-April. The warning said that South Africa “would have no alternative but to take the appropriate action to ensure the security of (South-West Africa) and its people” if South-West Africa People’s Organization guerrillas moved their bases back to the Angolan-Namibian border.
But he added Monday that the two platoons--60 soldiers--that had remained to guard the joint Angolan-Namibian irrigation and hydroelectric project have also been pulled out within the last few days, apparently as a conciliatory gesture to Luanda but perhaps also out of fear of reprisals against them for the Cabinda clash.
South Africa maintains that it has the right under international law to send military reconnaissance teams regularly into any neighboring state that might harbor anti-apartheid guerrillas. This bravado seems based on what officials here call “the realities of the region,” meaning that its strength allows it to dominate the region.
South African officials predict that this stance will bring Angola back into negotiations after a period of propaganda attacks and that the United States will then renew its mediation despite Washington’s present anger over the Cabinda raid.
‘Free to Deal’
“If they want to see Namibian independence and our withdrawal from South-West Africa, they must deal with us,” one well-placed official said. “And, if they don’t, then we will be free to deal with the problem in our own way. . . . We would prefer international recognition for Namibian independence, but we are willing to bring the territory to independence first and let recognition follow when the world is ready.”
Such calculations strike Western diplomats here as arrogant and unsound.
“What South Africa does not seem to realize fully is that it has justified Angola’s argument for keeping a substantial number of those Cuban troops and thus has undermined a basic premise of the Namibian negotiations,” another Western diplomat said. “If those talks, which have admittedly made little progress, collapse, then another element of ‘constructive engagement’ is gone, and the U.S. policy that replaces it will not be friendly to South Africa.”
The State Department said again last week that not only did Washington object to the continued South African incursions into Angola, in violation of a U.S.-mediated agreement for a total South African withdrawal, but that Pretoria’s explanations that the latest raid was an intelligence-gathering mission were unsatisfactory.
The U.S. Embassy here had no immediate comment on Monday’s Botha-Nickel meeting, except to confirm that it was “the latest of a series” the two have had since the Cabinda clash.
‘A Tough Battle’
“The Reagan Administration is in a tough battle to save constructive engagement and fight off economic sanctions and other punitive measures against us, and we act like international outlaws and terrorists,” said a leading South African foreign policy specialist outside the government. “This is a blunder that is going to cost us in many ways for a long time.”
Botha also assured Nickel, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, that South Africa would “not be a party to any attacks on U.S. installations or personnel anywhere in the world,” a reference to the 49% American share of the Cabinda oil complex and the 118 Americans who work there.
Most observers here believe that the intent of the mission, as indicated by its captured commander and confirmed in part by other sources, was to blow up or heavily damage the Cabinda oil complex. Then, they believe, the intent was to claim credit for the operation for the anti-government Angolan guerrillas who belong to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi.
The purpose apparently was to weaken the Luanda government by depriving it of vital foreign earnings from oil sales and to show it incapable of defending Cabinda and to build up Savimbi’s image inside the country and abroad.
But there is less certainty about whether “Operation Protea,” as the plan was code-named, was approved by South African President Pieter W. Botha and his Cabinet, even though they are known to be impatient over the drawn-out negotiations with Angola on Cuban troop withdrawal and Namibia. Luanda has repeatedly rebuffed Pretoria’s overtures for a peace pact of the kind that South Africa signed last year with Mozambique, another Marxist neighbor.
A second possibility, the focus of much political speculation, is that a “rogue elephant” in the government, or perhaps in the armed forces, mounted the operation without approval, either to force the pace of the negotiations with Angola--or to sabotage them.
The government’s domestic critics, even more than diplomats, believe that the Cabinda raid was a blunder that will not easily be rectified, particularly because few other governments will now accept South Africa’s written commitments as honest and binding.
“Who is going to believe what the minister and his department are saying, and can anyone be blamed if they don’t?” asked Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, leader of the white liberal opposition Progressive Federal Party.
His comments came after Gen. Magnus Malan, the defense minister, belatedly acknowledged to Parliament his troops’ continuing operations in Angola after announcing in mid-April that all South African soldiers had been withdrawn across the border into Namibia, in accordance with the agreement with Luanda.
‘South African Kadafi’
Graham McIntosh, another Progressive Federal Party member of Parliament, described Malan as the “Kadafi of southern Africa” and compared his troops’ alleged attempt to blow up the Cabinda oil complex with “the state terrorism” of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.
Through two days of such parliamentary attack, Malan stuck to the government’s story that the South African commandos were on a reconnaissance mission to assess the strength and activities of guerrillas belonging to the African National Congress and the South-West Africa People’s Organization at bases north and south of Luanda, the Angolan capital.
Capt. Wynand Petrus DuToit, the commander of the nine-man South African team, who was wounded and captured when his unit was surprised May 21 by Angolan troops, said in Luanda, however, that his mission had been to blow up a considerable part of the Cabinda oil complex.
The complex produces nearly 170,000 barrels of oil a day and accounts for a much of Angola’s foreign earnings.
The Cabinda oil complex, 49% owned by the U.S. Gulf Oil Corp., is manned by about 250 foreigners, including the 118 Americans, as well as 811 Angolans. The complex is heavily defended by Angolan and Cuban troops and is not near any of the known bases of the African National Congress or the South-West Africa People’s Organization, known as SWAPO.
Cabinda is an Angolan enclave on the West African coast, 20 miles north of the rest of Angola and separated from it by a section of Zaire.
‘Attacking Gulf Oil’
“No, we were not looking for the African National Congress or SWAPO,” DuToit told a Luanda press conference, which was later televised here. “We were attacking Gulf Oil. But, by that action, we hoped to reduce Angolan government aid to those groups.
“You all know SWAPO is using Angola as a springboard to attack South-West Africa,” DuToit said, apparently speaking freely and not suffering much from his wounds. “The South African government has asked the Angolan government to stop this, but the attacks are still going on.
“The two governments don’t talk, so we fight in this other way. I’m a soldier. It’s a good job. Mine is not to reason why.”
South African officials have suggested, based on their study of television tapes of DuToit’s comments to newsmen in Luanda, that he was speaking under severe pressure and “saying whatever his captors wanted him to say,” and Pretoria has continued to insist that the mission was solely for reconnaissance purposes.
The Angolans displayed to foreign reporters in Luanda the mines and explosives along with other equipment and weapons that DuToit and his men are said to have been carrying.
Two of his men were killed in the clash with Angolan forces, but six others apparently got away. South Africa has asked the International Red Cross to intercede for DuToit’s release and the return of the bodies of the two men killed.