Weekend talks in Lusaka, Zambia, do not appear to have advanced the prospects for Namibian independence. If anything, analysts say, the talks this past week seem to have reemphasized the linkage of potential Namibian independence to withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola - an issue that frequently bogs down talks on Namibia. There are no signs of speedy resolution of the Cuban issue, diplomats say.
After three days of meetings, the parties involved in the Lusaka talks - South Africa, the internal political parties in Namibia, and the SWAPO guerrilla movement that is fighting to end South Africa's control of the territory - failed to agree even on a joint statement.
Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, who hosted to the meeting, put a brave face on the talks, describing them as ''difficult but very useful.''
The most optimistic outcome of the talks may be that they may lead to further dialogue among the parties.
The structure of the Lusaka summit was awkward from the outset and that appears to have played a role in its failure to produce anything tangible. SWAPO insisted it was negotiating directly with South Africa. But South Africa said its administrator of Namibia (South-West Africa), Willie Van Niekerk, was only there to co-chair the meeting between SWAPO and a collection of internal parties called the Multiparty Conference.
SWAPO and the MPC spent the time talking past each other, with SWAPO regarding the MPC as a creature of the South African government and the MPC insisting that it be taken seriously by SWAPO. The MPC is made up of six political parties from Namibia and certainly has South Africa's tacit support.
Pretoria may have scored a minor victory at the talks for bringing the MPC and SWAPO together. South Africa appears to be trying to distance itself from the Namibia issue by creating the impresson that resolution of the issue is a matter for the people of the territory to decide.
Distancing itself has two benefits for Pretoria. Should the MPC and SWAPO be able to agree on any steps toward the territory's independence, South Africa could conceivably go along with less fear of a right-wing backlash at home. On the other hand, failure of the MPC and SWAPO to come to any agreement allows South Africa to claim that it is not responsible for lack of progress on the issue.
President Kaunda convened the meeting by calling on South Africa and the United States, which is deeply involved in the Namibia negotiations, to drop their insistence that before the United Nations plan for Namibian independence can be implemented there must be agreement on the withdrawal of the estimated 25 ,000 Cuban troops in Angola.
SWAPO took the same stand, insisting on implementation of the UN plan and calling for its unhinging from the Cuban issue.
South Africa said once again that the UN plan could not go ahead without a Cuban withdrawal. And it appears the MPC refused to join SWAPO in calling for an end to the Cuban linkage.
SWAPO's military options appear to be narrowing. Its bases in southern Angola have been shut down through an agreement between South Africa and Angola.
But SWAPO showed no willingness to come to some interim agreement on a cease-fire in Namibia. South Africa appears eager to force SWAPO into some form of cease-fire arrangement not linked to free elections in the territory. The UN plan provides for a cease-fire and SWAPO is still pressing for that kind of formal end of hostilities, followed by elections in Namibia.