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South Africa hints it is willing to talk with rebels to gain cease-fire in Angola

South Africa says that its current offensive in southern Angola is coming to an end. Pretoria is also giving at least the appearance of more flexibility in pursuing its stated desire for a cease-fire in Angola.

Over the weekend, South African Foreign Minister Roelof Botha said he would ''not oppose'' cease-fire talks between the South African administrator general of Namibia and the SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization) guerrillas fighting for control of the territory.

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The move represents a slight concession on the part of Pretoria, which has always in the past refused to negotiate with SWAPO, even indirectly through its Namibia (South-West Africa) administrator.

Whether this concession by South Africa will be welcomed by SWAPO remains to be seen. Close observers are skeptical, pointing out that SWAPO has never officially recognized as legitimate the authority of the Namibia administrator.

SWAPO, these analysts note, would much prefer to negotiate directly with Pretoria.

South Africa's apparently more flexible stance may stem partly from its commanding military position in southern Angola, and the politically secure position of the government of Prime Minister Pieter Botha.

Agreeing to talks between SWAPO and the Namibian administrator represents ''a shift in South Africa's position,'' says Namibian analyst Andre du Pisani of the University of South Africa.

''But it has been maneuvered very carefully,'' he adds, in the sense that Pretoria recognizes that its white electorate would not see talks with SWAPO by the Namibian administrator as a ''sellout'' as they might direct negotiations with the South African government.

On the military front, South African Defense Minister Gen. Magnus Malan said Sunday that South African forces are withdrawing from battle areas in southern Angola.

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At the same time, South Africa claimed its forces recently won what appears to have been the major battle of the offensive. The victory came against the combined forces of SWAPO, Angola, and the Cubans stationed in Angola.

South Africa launched its offensive into Angola over a month ago allegedly to stop a planned infiltration of SWAPO into Namibia.

SWAPO fights from bases in southern Angola and usually tries to infiltrate Namibia early in the year to take advantage of the onset of the rainy season.

According to South Africa, about 400 enemy troops have been killed in the Angolan fighting and 21 members of the South African forces.

Shortly after South Africa began its offensive, Pretoria made an offer of a ''disengagement'' of its forces from southern Angola at the end of January. It appears that by that time South Africa will have achieved its military objectives in Angola.

After an initial outright rejection, Angola made a counter offer essentially accepting a cease-fire but insisting it be tied to quick implementation of the United Nations plan for elections and independence in Namibia.

SWAPO has also said it was willing to negotiate a trial cease-fire although SWAPO, too, would like a cease-fire to be linked to an implementation plan.

Although some analysts are hopeful that a meaningful cease-fire dialogue may get under way, Pretoria has firmly rejected any linking of a cease-fire with independence for Namibia. South Africa's position is that Namibian independence cannot go forward until there is agreement on a withdrawal of Cubans from Angola.

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