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S. Africa Raids 3 Nearby Nations : Attacks Rebel Bases in Capitals of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana

May 20, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South African troops and warplanes attacked alleged guerrilla facilities of the African National Congress in the capitals of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe early Monday, killing at least three people and wounding more than a dozen.

Striking shortly after midnight, South African commandos blew up the African National Congress office in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, and a suburban home linked to the guerrillas.

At about 6:30 a.m., helicopter-borne assault troops attacked a housing complex outside Gaborone, Botswana, which South Africa said was used by African National Congress guerrillas. Helicopter gunships also strafed nearby Botswana army barracks.

Then, at 9 a.m., two warplanes bombed and strafed a United Nations refugee camp 10 miles southwest of Lusaka, Zambia, apparently mistaking it for a nearby compound used by the rebel group. Lusaka is nearly 1,000 miles from Johannesburg.

Far-Reaching Effort

The raids were South Africa's most far-reaching offensive yet against the outlawed African National Congress (ANC), the principal guerrilla group fighting the apartheid system of racial separation and minority white rule.

The raids apparently were intended to deter attacks by the group on government or white targets in South Africa. They were was also intended to discourage South Africa's black-ruled neighbors from supporting the insurgents by demonstrating their vulnerability.

Attempting to justify the attacks in the face of widespread international condemnation, the South African Defense Force headquarters in Pretoria said: "Neighboring countries cannot plead ignorance regarding the presence of terrorists in their countries. . . . The action taken against the terrorists should be interpreted as indicative of the firm resolve of the Republic of South Africa to use all means at its disposal against terrorists wherever they may be."

But Zambian President Kenneth D. Kaunda, angry over the attack on the refugee camp outside Lusaka, said the raids demonstrated again the need for "front-line states" such as Zambia to support the African National Congress. He said the raids perhaps proved as well the futility of attempting to negotiate a peaceful resolution to South Africa's problems.

Weeping over the two dead and 10 injured at the camp, Kaunda described the attack as "a dastardly, cowardly, criminal action" that amounted to state terrorism.

The third person killed in the South African operation was a government employee in Botswana.

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, his voice shaking with emotion, told journalists in Harare on Monday night that "the time has come for us to call for more support to be given to the ANC and other liberation movements fighting in South Africa."

New Sanctions Likely

The United States, Britain and the European Communities all expressed their outrage at the attacks, and diplomats and opposition politicians here said that new international sanctions against South Africa appear to be inevitable.

The South African action effectively ended the peace mission of a special Commonwealth commission that had been trying to open a dialogue between Pretoria and the African National Congress.

Composed of "eminent persons" from Britain and six other Commonwealth countries, the group had just returned to Cape Town for further talks with President Pieter W. Botha and other officials after meetings with the African National Congress at its Lusaka headquarters over the weekend. Five of the commission's members left for home Monday; the other two plan to leave today, with no further talks planned.

'Defenseless Neighbor'

The liberal white opposition Progressive Federal Party called for an emergency debate today in the South African Parliament. Helen Suzman, the party's senior member of Parliament, who has just returned from the United States, warned that the attacks could well bring new sanctions against South Africa.

"The specter of a mighty power (acting) against defenseless neighbors does not go down very well," she said.

Despite the potential political consequences of the raids, the South African military, which has long wanted to attack the rebel group on its home ground, pronounced the raids an all-around success.

Lt. Gen. A. J. Liebenberg, the South African army commander, said the attacks destroyed the African National Congress' "operational center" in downtown Harare and "terrorist transit facilities" there and in Gaborone. All were used, Liebenberg said, to smuggle guerrillas and weapons across Zimbabwe's and Botswana's borders with South Africa.

Rebels Alerted

African National Congress officials in Harare, alerted by Zimbabwean intelligence to a possible South African raid, said they took refuge elsewhere in the city late Sunday and escaped the attack. A watchman in the building that housed the guerrillas' office was the only person reported injured there.

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