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Namibia talks snag on Angola rebels, but Cuban shift welcomed

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Negotiations for Namibian independence are beginning to resemble a domestic squabble, with each side disclaiming responsibility for the troublesome ''uncle'' who has come to visit.

The ''uncle'' in this case is the Angolan rebel movement UNITA - the Union for the Total Independence of Angola - led by Jonas Savimbi. The squabbling parties are South Africa and Angola.

Angola and Cuba have set conditions for the gradual withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola, which South Africa has stated is the only remaining requirement for its granting of independence to Namibia.

The withdrawal conditions were spelled out after a three-day meeting in Havana between Angola's President, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

One of those conditions - considered a key one - is that Pretoria end its widely acknowledged support of UNITA, a formidable force that occupies an estimated one-third of Angola.

However, South Africa has always insisted that UNITA is basically an indigenous rebel movement created out of dissatisfaction within the Angolan population with the policies of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) Party.

South African Foreign Minister Roelof Botha has asked for a clarification of communique issued at the Cuban-Angola meeting, saying he wanted to know whether the statement's expression of support for the rebel SWAPO movement in Namibia was a repudiation of Angola's earlier agreement to monitor the Angolan-Namibian border in a peacekeeping role.

And just before Mr. dos Santos' visit to Cuba, South Africa explicitly raised the UNITA issue by calling for a regional conference on Namibia that would include the MPLA and UNITA. The MPLA regime promptly rejected the idea of negotiating with UNITA.

The UNITA issue is important, although the stances of Angola and South Africa may be primarily opening negotiating positions, diplomatic sources here say.

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