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South Africa's salvos at tiny black neighbor Lesotho could backfire

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Tensions are rising between South Africa and Lesotho, similar to those that preceded Pretoria's devastating strike into that country late last year. And South Africa's hard-line policy toward its tiny landlocked neighbor appears to be backfiring. Lesotho's political belligerence toward South Africa seems only to be growing.

Lesotho, known mostly for its wool and mohair weaving, got unwanted attention last December when South Africa invaded its capital city of Maseru to attack members of the banned African National Congress.

The ANC is conducting a sabotage campaign against South Africa's white government. Some 42 people were killed; Pretoria concedes a dozen of them were innocent bystanders.

Despite a brief rapprochement, relations between the two countries in the wake of the strike continue to go from bad to worse. Lesotho claims Pretoria wants nothing less than to topple its government. South Africa says it has ''had enough'' of such claims and is threatening military and economic action against Lesotho if it persists in providing alleged sanctuary to the ANC - a charge Lesotho denies.

South Africa's threats were contained in a letter to the United Nations Security Council earlier this month.

The most serious long-term development creating friction between the two states is Lesotho's rather rapid development of friendlier ties with the East bloc.

Lesotho Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan announced recently that five communist countries would be opening embassies in his country over the next year. The Soviet Union, China, and North Korea are to open embassies before the end of this year, followed in 1984 by Romania and Yugoslavia.

Pretoria sees Soviet influence behind the sabotage campaign being waged by the ANC, and the opening of the embassies in Lesotho is regarded by South Africa as a provocative act.

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