Major Clash Reignites Tensions, Casts Doubt Over Peace Talks
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Foreign Minister Pik Botha said today a Cuban and Angolan raid on South African forces in southern Angola could threaten peace talks to end the 13- year-old Angolan civil war.
South African soldiers protecting a dam killed more than 300 Angolan and Cuban troops who launched a land and air attack Monday, South African military headquarters said. It said 12 South Africans were killed.
The 12 deaths were the country’s highest fatality count in a single battle in Angola during the past year. Col. John Rolt of the South African Defense Force described the battle as one of the biggest South African-Cuban clashes since Cuban troops arrived in 1975 to support Angola’s Marxist government.
The battle occurred at a dam outside Calueque, about 30 miles north of the border with South-West Africa, the territory administered by South Africa.
The South African military said 11 of its soldiers were killed by a bomb dropped from a Soviet-made MiG fighter plane. The 12th soldier was killed in the ground skirmish that left 300 Cubans and Angolans dead, the military said.
South Africa has long protected the dam, which supplies water to South-West Africa, also known as Namibia. The dam wall was damaged, electricity to the wall was cut off and a water pipeline was destroyed, the military said.
Botha said the attack ″confirms Cuba’s aggressive intentions,″ adding that additional raids could undermine ongoing peace talks.
South Africa, Angola, Cuba and the United States have held three rounds of peace talks since May, including discussions that concluded last weekend in Cairo, Egypt. A fourth round is scheduled next month in the United States.
The talks have focused on withdrawing all foreign troops from Angola and bringing independence to Namibia. The talks have not produced any concrete results, but all sides have described the meetings as productive.
″I cannot at this stage predict how the events at Calueque will affect the further course of the discussions,″ Botha said in a statement released early today. ″However, should this trend continue, it will serve no purpose to hold further discussions.″
Botha said South African protection of the Calueque dam was discussed in May at peace talks in Brazzaville, Congo.
″The impression was left that (Angola) understood the position and would ensure that ... Calueque would not become the scene of military intervention by the Cubans,″ Botha said.
″The clash at Calueque confirms the South African government’s suspicion that the Cuban command in Angola ignores the Angolan government ... and possibly also the (Cuban) political representatives who participated in the discussions,″ Botha added.
South Africa has said that during the past year it has had up to 3,000 troops in Angola supporting the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), a pro-Western rebel movement. UNITA, which also receives military aid from the United States, has been fighting since 1975 for a power- sharing agreement.
Angola claims there are 9,000 South African troops inside its borders. The Angolan government, meanwhile, is backed by more than 40,000 Cuban troops and an estimated 1,000 Soviet advisers.
In recent weeks, South Africa and UNITA said the Cubans and Angolans had moved at least 15,000 fresh troops to southern Angola, along the border with Namibia. The Angolans said the troop movements were to match South African activity in the area.
South Africa traditionally has crossed into Angola from South-West Africa in pursuit of guerrillas of the South-West African People’s Organization.
The guerrilla group has been fighting for 21 years to end South African control of the territory. The rebels often launch their periodic raids from bases in southern Angola.