After a weeklong, cross-border raid into Angola, South African forces Sunday returned to their bases in Namibia, claiming to have killed 15 black guerrillas of the South-West Africa People’s Organization, captured 54 others and driven several hundred more away from the border area, disrupting a planned offensive.
Maj. Gen. George Meiring, commander of the South African forces, said in a statement in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia (also called South-West Africa), that the 500-man South African task force had suffered no casualties in nine skirmishes with the guerrillas.
The SWAPO guerrillas have been fighting nearly 20 years in an effort to gain independence for the South Africa administered territory.
The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously condemned the South African operation, calling for the troops’ immediate withdrawal. The United States strongly criticized the incursion as adding to the instability of the region and as further undermining negotiations on Namibian independence.
Rebels on Defensive
Meanwhile, the Angolan Defense Ministry in Luanda, Angola’s capital, claimed that South Africa’s real intention was to deflect an offensive by Angolan forces, their largest in a decade-long civil war against right-wing rebels of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. These insurgents have had considerable South African support for many years.
Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader, acknowledged at a weekend press conference at Jamba, his headquarters in southeast Angola, that his forces were on the defensive in several areas. However, he denied that government troops were converging on his headquarters, as Luanda has claimed.
Savimbi said the Angolan troops were being commanded down to the company level by Soviet officers and that Soviet pilots were flying air strikes and leading the armored thrusts against his forces in what he called an all-out effort intended to destroy UNITA, as the rebels are known, as a credible force.
But he denied Angolan government assertions that South African troops had come to assist UNITA (which Pretoria has now publicly admitted helping), even though some South African medical corps personnel and a few logistics specialists are serving with his forces at Jamba and in front-line positions.
The main battle now, Savimbi said, was around Mavinga, about 140 miles northwest of Jamba and about 160 miles north of the border. He said his forces have halted the government advance about 15 miles outside the town, a major rebel stronghold, after yielding several other towns in the last two weeks.
Meiring said most of the skirmishes between South African troops and the Namibian guerrillas occurred around Evale and Nehone, about 75 miles north of the Namibian-Angolan border, well to the west of the Mavinga area.
He said several arms caches, including 25 rifles, an assortment of grenades, mines and ammunition and about 575 pounds of explosives were found in the area and were to be used in a terrorist campaign against civilian targets in Namibia.
The Namibian rebels for years have used Angola, just to the north of their homeland, as a base area for mounting attacks on the South African administrators of Namibia.
In South Africa, meantime, police headquarters reported one death in scattered incidents of unrest around the country Sunday.
In New Brighton, a black township outside Port Elizabeth, the burned body of a 23-year-old man was found; he had been doused with gasoline and an auto tire had been placed around his shoulders before he was set afire. This has become the execution ritual for suspected police informers.