Soldiers and supporters of Jonas Savimbi's Unita movement are moving into Namibia's Caprivi Strip in unprecedented numbers, on the eve of the signing of the Brazzaville protocol. According to reports from the disputed territory, the Angolan rebels are making a strategic play to pre-empt the arrival of United Nations peace keeping and monitoring forces, if final agreement is reached in the Anger la/Namibia peace process
And, says Andre du Pisani of the South African Institute of International Affairs, it is the "Unita factor" which is potentially the greatest danger to the resolution of the conflict in south-western Africa- and not the dispute over the verification of Cuban withdrawal currently bedevilling the Brazaville negotiations. "Unita is the party most likely to take advantage of the agreement,'' he says, "they could put strain on the negotiations more than anyone."
The Angolan press agency, Angop, claims that Unita's Jamba headquarters have been "resisted" to Chetto in then Caprivi Strip. Although this claim appears to be exaggerated, there are persistent reports of a sharply increased Unita presence. There have already been two recent reported incidents involving Unita ops and Namibian citizens in the Caprivi Strip – one of them involving an alleged Unita "control point" the Namibian side of the border. The Angolan rebels are said to be crossing into the Caprivi Strip despite, existence of the Angolan/Cuban South African Joint Military Monitor Commission (JMMC), established in terms of an agreement reached in Geneva in August.
According to Du Pisani, only 11 out of 16 of the monitoring bases envisaged in Geneva have been established – and "this could be a deliberate gap to enable continuing direct access to Unita". The South West African Territorial Force (SWATF) vigorously denies that "Unita has, or has ever had, base facilities in South West Africa/Namibia", but the presence of people connected to the rebels has been repeatedly alleged in the area. Du Pisani refers to "independent reports indicating that some of Unita 's forces have moved into the Strip itself".
Rajah Munamava, a journalist on The Namibian newspaper, reports that as recently as last week a Namibian businessman, Martin Kambanda of Tsumeb, was "intercepted" at a Unita "control point" at Marccuso village inside the Caprivi Strip. Kambanda was allegedly taken across the border to a Unita camp, where he is still being held. It is also reported by The Namibian that Unita admitted liability for an incident in late October in Namibia’s Kavango region. Several rural homes were · attacked with handgrenades, and "residents on the border with Angola, particularly in the far north or so-called Ovamboland and the Kavango have this year reported Unita bands roaming around their area." The "bandits seemingly move freely in the border areas without being hindered …
Certainly it appears as if Unita is behind many of these incidents," the newspaper reported. The protracted Angolan/Namibian peace process reached its most critical stage this week as all involved parties gathered in the Congolese capital to put the seal on a peace protocol. Also in Brazzaville is high ranking Soviet officials and members of Swapo, as well as the United States team which has brokered the talks. Last-minute hiccups -chiefly South African concerns about the mechanics of verifying the Cuban withdrawal -delayed the formal signing, scheduled for yesterday. It was also reported that some of the South African delegates arrived late for the talks.
Angola also has worries: Luanda wants last-minute assurances that South African troops will pull back from the sensitive region bordering Angola's Cuando Cubango province before the implementation of the UN independence plan. Unita's stronghold is in this area. But, says Du Pisani, "although the verification issue (of the planned 27-month withdrawal of the estimated 50 000 Cuban troops) will test the strength of the negotiations, all the parties· have invested too deeply in the negotiations to extricate themselves now. I don't think any of the players are being disingenuous." It is thought likely that South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha will fly to the Congo to sign the protocol this weekend – thus clearing the way for the mobilisation of the UN Technical Assistance Group (Untag) early next year.
The protocol is expected to include firm dates for the signing of a final peace accord – January 16 is the favourite guess in diplomatic circles – and for the independence plan kick-off, expected to start in March. It is the prospect of Unita thus being "cut off’ from friendly neighbours in the Caprivi Strip, some observers say, which might underlie the alleged Unita moves. Last weekend it was reported that a senior Unita official had con finned that South African support for the movement would be withdrawn as a result of agreement on the Cuban withdrawal. A theory being floated by observers to explain the Unita moves holds that the rebels need to establish themselves on Namibian soil before Untag arrives, and the South Africans depart.
In this way, Unita soldiers or supporters can pass themselves off as refugees or as Namibians. "Refugee" camps could then be used as supply-depots for Jamba, in much the same way as similar establishments in Malawi assist rebel forces in Mozambique. This could "fool" the UN forces, and ensure that Savimbi still receives crucial food and fuel sup plies -whatever happens in the wider peace process.
SWATF declines to answer queries about the presence of Unita "refugees" in the Caprivi, directing enquiries to the "appropriate authorities like the Red Cross or the local administration". Another spectre has been raised by Du Pisani, regarding the influx of Unita – connected people into the vast open spaces of the Caprivi: "This raises the real possibility of the emergence of a form of social banditry in the region a Ia Mozambique," he said. "And of course one cannot exclude the possibility of elements of the military wishing to support this."
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.