Crocker flies in to douse the war flames

After days of apparent dithering, a flurry of inter-governmental diplomacy has begun including the jetting in of Dr Chester Crocker, the United States under-secretary of state for African affairs who brokered the peace deal. He is expected to arrive in Namibia this weekend to attend an urgent meeting of the Joint Military Monitoring Commission (JMMC). Around the table will be high-level representatives of Angola, Cuba and South Africa- and possibly the Soviet Union.

Pretoria is likely to be represented by Foreign Minister Pik Botha. The international drive is focused on the need for a political compromise which the United Nations believes is the only thing that could stop the bloodletting in northern Namibia. After a brief lull in the intensity of fighting on Wednesday, South West African Police (Swapol) representative Chief Inspector Kierie du Rand said at least two fierce engagements were taking place on the western and eastern extremes of Owamboland late yesterday.

Figures given by Swapo's Major General Hans Dreyer suggested the Swapo death toll had risen to more than 220, with 26 members of the combined South African and South West African security forces dead. Swapo put its death toll at 38 yesterday. Swapo confirmed that every available armoured vehicle in the region has been pressed into service. Some 4 500 heavily-armed men were still involved in the fighting in the war zone last night. Police, supported by six battalions of the South African army and South West African Territory Force, were hunting down an estimated 1 000 Swapo guerrillas on the vast plains and thick bush of Owamboland.

Although Botha and Swapo Information Secretary Hidipo Hamutenya have presented ceasefire proposals in quick succession, neither showed any sign of being acceptable to the other side. It is now believed that only extreme pressure on the warring parties can force a ceasefire. In addition to the emergency JMMC meeting in Namibia, an offer by the United States to airlift a battalion of Finnish soldiers into the country has been warmly received, and the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (Untag) troops could arrive at Grootfontein in the Namibian midlands on Saturday in preparation for deployment to the north.

In Luanda, Swapo president Sam Nujoma is holding urgent talks with representatives of the Frontline states, and expectations are running high in Namibia that the London meeting between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev could produce a peace proposal. The UN, according to its spokesman in Windhoek, Cedric Thornberry, accepts that attempts to achieve a cessation of hostilities will decide the fate of the independence plan. "I have to tell you that at this time there is a possibility of the (military) situation escalating," he said yesterday at an Untag press briefing. "What is needed more than anything else is political agreement. To get UN Resolution 435 back on track we have to get cooperation from both sides – if we don't, it doesn't matter how many blue berets we have up there. They could even make the situation worse."

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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