Angola threatens to use Cubans as US backs South Africa

The Guardian, September 3 1981
with Jane Berger and Patrick Laurence

Angola yesterday took a cautious step towards involving Cuban troops in fighting South African invasions of the country. The threat came as South African forces claimed they were completing a withdrawal from Angola, but there was no confirmation from Luanda.

The Angolan move comes after Washington’s veto of UN Security Council attempts to demand the withdrawal of South Africa’s forces, which yesterday named the Russian officer they captured.

Angola reacted to the Security Council veto, by saying “Conditions have now been met for invoking Article 51 of the United Nations charter.” This allows UN member states which are under attack to call on their allies for military support in the absence of UN security council measures to maintain peace.

However, the statement issued after an emergency Cabinet meeting, pointedly stopped short of invoking the article. Angola is desperate to find a way to end the fighting without calling on its allies.

The South African Defence Force yesterday named the Soviet officer captured by South African soldiers in Angola last week as Sergeant Major Nicolai Feodrovich Pestretsov, aged 36, who was captured about 30 miles from the Namibian-Angolan border while travelling in convoy with Swapo insurgents and soldiers of the Angolan army.

The rank of two of the Russian soldiers who lost their lives in clashes with South African soldiers was also given as Lieutenant-Colonel. No further details were released, but the inference was that more than two Soviet officers were killed.

According to the Defence Force, South African troops had withdrawn from the town of Xangongo, about 60 miles north of the border, by Monday, but were still withdrawing from the N’giva, about 25 miles from the border, yesterday.

Three reasons were cited for the apparent delay in a complete withdrawal: landmining of the roads south; repairs to South African vehicles; and difficulties posed by hundreds of tons of captured military equipment. Twelve South African soldiers have lost their lives.

Two foreign television journalists who said they witnessed the South African withdrawal, showed film of hundreds of troop carriers and other armoured vehicles heading south to the Namibian border. “We have no proof that the last South African soldier has left Angola, but we believe that it is so,” said Walter Sucher of Germany and Philip Hayton of the BBC.

However, reports from Luanda say that South African forces appear to be digging in for a long stay, and that there is still no sign of any withdrawal. Reports from north-east Cunene indicated motorised South African infantry were attempting to push into Huila province further north in a flanking movement, having met determined Angolan resistance at Cahama on the main strategic highway.

Angolans fear that South Africa is intent on occupying a buffer zone in the south and that they will try to include Huila province, which is the breadbasket for the border provinces.

Angola also condemned the American veto in the Security Council as “showing total disdain for the efforts the Angolan Government has made to respect United Nations Security Council Resolutions and, in particular, Security Council Resolution 435” – the plan for Namibian independence.

The Government statement on the eve of a General Assembly debate in New York on Namibia, condemns the Reagan Administration for having “clearly demonstrated its close alliance with the hated apartheid regime and ignoring human rights, which it cynically professes to defend.” Diplomats believe that Angola cannot afford to use the Cubans to end the conflict for fear of provoking an even more costly escalation.

In South Africa the Afrikaans newspaper, Beeld, yesterday identified the five leaders of Swapo’s internal wing who have been detained by security police in Namibia. The five included Mr Immanuel Ngatijizeko, acting administrative secretary of Swapo’s executive committee, and Mr Gabriel Skikosgo, and executive member of the Swapo Youth League.

Beeld, which often reflects the views of the Prime Minister. Mr P. W. Botha, also praised the United States for vetoing the UN Security Council resolution. Its praise contrasted with rejection of the call by Mr Edward Heath, for blacks to be given universal franchise at central Government level in South Africa. Mr Heath is in Namibia.

The Soviet Union meanwhile stayed silent yesterday on South Africa’s announcement that it had captured a Soviet soldier in Angola, and Western diplomats said Moscow would probably await proof of the claim before acting.

The United States meanwhile complained yesterday that the presence of large numbers of Russians and East Germans in Angola and Soviet arms supplies to Swapo were unhelpful in the search for peace in Namibia. American officials say that the invasion of Angola and Namibia peace settlement has to be viewed in a broader context, in view of the heavy presence of Communist troops, arms, and technical advisers in the area.

The State Department spokesman, Mr Dean Fischer, said that the US understood that there were up to 1,000 Russian military and technical personnel in Angola, with 400 East German and other Eastern Block military advisers and technicians.