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Commonwealth chiefs disagree on Namibia

Although the leaders insist they meet as friends, there is already brisk debate at the Commonwealth heads-of-state meeting in Melbourne over guidelines for the North-South summit and how to hurry along Namibian independence.

So far, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appears somewhat out of step with many of her Commonwealth colleagues on North-South issues. The British leader tends to reflect US President Ronald Reagan's attitude toward development: The needy should be encouraged to help themselves.

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In contrast, a number of other Commonwealth leaders, including conference host Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, stick to the view that a massive transfer of resources from the rich to the poor nations is needed.

On Namibia, Mrs. Thatcher has locked horns with Zimbabwe Prime Minister Robert Mugabe. Mrs. Thatcher wants the Commonwealth to play only a marginal diplomatic role in arranging the timetable for independence, leaving most of the initiative with the five-nation "contact group" that is about to tour southern Africa capitals.

Mr. Mugabe, with solid support from more than a dozen conference delegates, wants the Commonwealth to condemn South Africa. He favors pressuring the contact group so it will not "sell out" Namibian majority interests.

Mugabe, whose country was given a shove toward independence at a similar Commonwealth gathering in Zambia two years ago, told summitteers that they had a moral duty to ensure that Namibia, still administered by South Africa in Defiance of the UN, is allowed to take the freedom road.

It looks as though the leaders will need the full week allotted to find common ground.

One potential row that was swiftly defused was New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's threat to bring up human-rights violations by the Commonwealth's African members in retaliation for heavy criticism of his refusal to call off a series of rugby matches this summer with South Africa.

Muldoon stated he had tried to discourage the games and was angry that a Commonwealth meeting of finance ministers, scheduled to be held in Canberra, was canceled when he refused to call off the games. His "confidence in the Commonwealth way of doing things had been shaken," he said.

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When he had finished, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania complimented Muldoon for his speech and said he believed the matter should not be an issue at the conference.

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