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Clashes Stall Peace Plan in Namibia : At Least 126 Killed as Police, Rebels Battle for 2nd Day

Times Staff Writer

Bloody battles between rebels and police that have imperiled the fragile U.N. framework for Namibian independence continued for a second day Sunday as the death toll rose to at least 126 and the authorities searched the northern bush for 400 to 600 more insurgents.

The South African administrator general, who controls the territory’s U.N.-monitored transition to nationhood, halted the demobilization of Namibia’s army and reactivated two units to help the police control the guerrilla invasion.

The United Nations’ two-day-old, $461-million plan to free Namibia from South Africa’s 74-year rule is “still on stream,” said Louis Pienaar, the South African administrator general.

30 Separate Clashes

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Police counted more than 30 separate clashes Sunday with armed members of the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), the group that had agreed to lay down its arms after 23 years of guerrilla conflict and participate in the U.N.-supervised elections.

“Fresh armed contacts were established by the hour in the war zone,” said Kierie du Rand, a police spokesman in Windhoek. In one clash, police killed 25 heavily armed SWAPO guerrillas, he added, and in another, 17 SWAPO members died.

Du Rand said Sunday night that at least 120 guerrillas and six police officers had died in two days of clashes. On Saturday, authorities said 38 SWAPO guerrillas and two policemen had been killed.

U.N. Team Investigates

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The U.N. special representative here, Martti Ahtisaari, met for 90 minutes with Pienaar, police officials and a four-member U.N. team that had flown to the area of the fighting, about 400 miles north of Windhoek, to investigate.

A U.N. spokesman declined to comment, except to say that Ahtisaari has agreed with Pienaar’s decision to activate Namibia’s military forces. None of the 1,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops in the country, part of what will be a 4,650-member force, were involved in the fighting.

The conflict, the first serious clashes in the north since September, apparently began shortly before a formal cease-fire was to take effect Saturday when about 150 SWAPO guerrillas crossed the Angola-Namibia border in three groups, police say. South Africa charges that the guerrillas were armed with automatic weapons and surface-to-air missiles.

Police officials said they did not know how many of the 400 to 600 armed guerrillas still roaming northern Namibia on Sunday had crossed the border from Angola. Some of the guerrillas, the authorities said, might already have been hiding inside Namibia.

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No one knows for sure why SWAPO guerrillas might have invaded the territory and threatened the first concrete steps toward their goal of an independent Namibia.

Some political analysts have speculated that the incursions were launched by a renegade faction of SWAPO, unhappy with SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma’s vow to support the Namibian peace process. Some hard-line SWAPO supporters thought that SWAPO, by agreeing to contest an election in Namibia, was giving away too much political ground for a group that the United Nations has identified as the “sole and authentic” representative of Namibia’s people.

SWAPO had been considered a likely winner of the territory’s first free and fair national elections, set for November, and its international image has been badly shaken by the apparent violation of the peace agreement.

Under that accord, SWAPO was to have confined its soldiers to bases north of the 16th Parallel in Angola, 150 miles north of the border. Within two months, under U.N. supervision, the guerrillas were to surrender their arms and return peacefully to Namibia.

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However, Western diplomats say that about 3,000 SWAPO fighters remain south of the 16th Parallel, and police reported that the two guerrillas captured Saturday said that about 300 SWAPO troops were near the border with Namibia.

In its first statement since the fighting began, SWAPO said Sunday that its guerrillas had been “hunted down and attacked” by South African forces in the hours before the dawn cease-fire Saturday. The statement, issued at SWAPO headquarters in Luanda, Angola, acknowledged that SWAPO did not have complete control over the actions of its field soldiers but nevertheless contended they had been acting in self-defense.

South Africa’s foreign minister, Roelof F. (Pik) Botha, contended that SWAPO commanders had issued orders for its members to cross the border.

“It’s not important what their aims were. They were well-armed,” Botha said from Cape Town. He said that the U.N. Security Council should meet immediately to condemn SWAPO’s actions.

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But Danny Tjongarero, acting chairman of SWAPO here in the Namibian capital, said thatSWAPO “had nothing to gain from crossing the border into Namibia. Let me assure you we will make our own investigation.”

SWAPO, in its headquarters statement, said that its troops were “under strict instructions not to initiate any act of military hostility.” And it said that Nujoma, its president, had addressed a group of SWAPO guerrillas near the border in southern Angola on Friday, ordering them to observe the cease-fire “in letter and spirit.”

A spokesman for Pienaar, however, said SWAPO had broken the cease-fire simply by being within 150 miles of the Namibian border.

SWAPO and the Council of Churches also alleged Sunday that a South African military helicopter opened fire on youths wearing SWAPO T-shirts, killing at least six. They said the incident occurred Saturday in a remote area of northeastern Namibia.

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South Africa denied the allegation. Soldiers of the South African Defense Forces have remained confined to their bases since Saturday, in line with the U.N. peace guidelines, according to Pretoria.

South Africa has ruled this former German colony since 1915--and since 1966 in defiance of the United Nations.

Last December, South Africa, Angola and Cuba approved a regional accord, adopting a 1978 U.N. plan for Namibian independence as part of a pact that also called for the withdrawal of 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola by mid-1991.

Under the U.N. plan, South Africa--with the consent of the U.N. secretary general--is to conduct free and fair elections in Namibia in November. That election will choose a constituent assembly, which will draw up a new constitution for an independent Namibia.

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Kraft, The Times’ Johannesburg bureau chief, is now on assignment in Namibia.


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