Events Preceding Implementation of Resolution 435

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By Da’oud Vries WINDHOEK THE discovery of mass graves believed to date back to April 1, 1989 has evoked a lot of talk and emotions on the pre-independence history of Namibia. Ex-president Sam Nujoma was the first to react to what he termed “negative media reports” that blamed Swapo for the massacre of hundreds of Plan combatants by the South African forces during the eight days of intense fighting in the nine days of war that started on the eve of the implementation of Namibia’s independence plan, UN Resolution 435. The fighting that erupted on April 1, dates back to 1988 when the supposed invincibility of the South African Defence Force suffered major setbacks at Quito Cuanavale in the south of Angola against the combined Cuban international forces stationed in Angola, Swapo fighters and the Angolan forces. South Africa in 1988 launched a massive invasion of Angola, cornering key units of the Angolan army. The Cubans, who until then were not involved in physical fighting with South Africa, decided to enter the battle and stopped the South Africans in their tracks during the decisive Quito Cuanavale fight. It was the Quito battle that also paved the way for the complete withdrawal of the South African forces from Angola and the implementation of Resolution 435, just over a decade after its passing by the UN Security Council. In July 1988, South Africa, Cuba and Angola agreed in New York on the “Principles for a peaceful settlement in South Western Africa”. The essential elements of this agreement were the staged and total withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola as well as the total withdrawal of South Africa from Angola. In terms of the Geneva Protocol signed on August 5, 1988, the three parties agreed that the South African forces should complete their withdrawal from Angola by not later than September 1, 1988. Angola and Cuba were to “use their good offices so that once the total withdrawal of South African troops from Angola was completed, and within the context also of the cessation of hostilities in Namibia, Swapo’s forces would be deployed to the north of the 16th parallel”, the Geneva Protocol reads. On April 1, the then South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha informed the UN Special Representative in Namibia, Martti Ahtisaari of “armed incursions and clashes with local police” by Swapo forces. This was the start of the war that resulted in hundreds of casualties on both sides. This marked the beginning of intense diplomatic activity between Windhoek, Pretoria, Washington and Luanda, as the fight continued. On April 2, Swapo issued a statement from Luanda denying allegations by Botha that it “has carried out a military raid on South African troops in Namibia”. The statement further reads that Plan members were forced to fight or face “a premeditated campaign of annihilation” by South African forces. According to Botha, information obtained from captured Plan fighters revealed that they were “ordered to cross the border into South-West Africa/Namibia in uniform and under arms, inter alia, in order to establish bases in Namibia”. The UN Secretary General then briefed the Security Council on April 3, on the deteriorating situation in Namibia that threatened to derail the independence of Namibia. He informed the council that the UN had agreed at the request of South Africa that certain military units of South Africa that were confined to base could be released to assist the police to contain the situation. The Security Council was also informed of UN personal interviews with captured Plan combatants. In the words of the Secretary General to the Security Council: “Each reiterated several times that they had been told that the war was about to be over, and that they were to enter Namibia and help establish a base which would then be under the United Nations.” According to the Secretary General’s report Swapo had “emphatically denied” that it had violated the ceasefire and that its forces were attacked inside Namibia and responded in self-defence. In another communication dated April 4, Pik Botha informed the Secretary General that Swapo was continuing with its “incursions”. On April 6, Swapo expressed itself from London on the 16th Parallel provision of the Geneva Protocol. The communication contested the existence of a ceasefire saying that “the only cessation of hostilities in Namibia which could possibly be referred to is the ceasefire between Swapo and South Africa marking the beginning of implementation of Resolution 435.” Therefore, the 16th Parallel provision does not apply, as there was no ceasefire. “The Geneva protocol cannot and does not alter in any way the terms of Resolution 435 on the confinement to base of Swapo forces inside Namibia at the time of the ceasefire,” Swapo reacted. South Africa on its part persisted that Swapo was in breach of the 16th Parallel provision and impressed upon the UN that Swapo cadres withdraw completely from Namibia. On April 5, The Secretary General made proposals to both Swapo and South Africa on the resumption of the ceasefire. In terms of this, the South African Defence and Police were to be monitored by Untag and Swapo armed forces present in Namibia would report to Untag at temporary assembly points. At these points Swapo cadres who chose to remain armed would be escorted across the border to Angola and further north of the 16th Parallel. And those choosing to remain in Namibia would surrender their weapons and return as unarmed civilians to their homes in the country. Swapo agreed to these proposals and informed the UN accordingly on April 6 at a Frontline States summit. In his briefing to the Security Council on April 7, the Secretary General said his “efforts have been aimed primarily at ending the fighting and restoring the ceasefire which the two parties (Swapo and South Africa) had agreed to observe effective April 1”. Calling it a concession, Swapo President Sam Nujoma the following day announced in Luanda that “we (Swapo) have taken a decision to order all Plan troops inside Namibia to stop fighting, regroup and report to the People’s Republic of Angola within 72 hours under the escort of Untag”, thereby ending bloodletting and setting the stage for the implementation of Resolution 435. In the same statement Swapo also alluded to “differing and contradictory interpretations of the procedures about the implementation” of Resolution 435.