VANCOUVER, Canada — The biennial summit conference of the Commonwealth ended Saturday in an extraordinary exchange of acrimony that submerged the polite words of the official communiques.
Although the leaders of the 47 member nations signed various declarations expressing satisfaction and even pleasure over agreements on education, technical and economic assistance and a general attitude of cooperation, the polite words failed to gloss over a bitter split between Britain and its former colonies about how to confront South Africa over its racial policies known as apartheid.
After Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused Friday to accept any bolstering of existing mild, limited economic sanctions against the Pretoria regime, she became the target of a barrage of vitriol rare in an organization of presumed allies and friends.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke of Australia told reporters that Britain had been guilty of "disinformation to some extent" in the way its delegation had carried on the sanctions debate.
Saying he spoke on behalf of all Commonwealth leaders except Thatcher, Hawke was especially critical of the sharp negative reaction of Thatcher and her aides toward Canada's activist role in pressing for more sanctions. Criticism of Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Hawke said, "defies our imagination" and is "totally unfair."
In the same news conference, Prime Minister Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said Thatcher was motivated by greed and racism.
Mulroney Endorsed Views
Mulroney, the object of much private and background criticism by anonymous British officials, declined to endorse specifically the harsh words of Hawke, Mugabe and other leaders. But Canadian officials said that "Mulroney was aware of what Hawke and the others intended to say and endorsed their views in the broadest terms."
Mulroney was a leader in arguing for new and tougher sanctions against Pretoria.
British officials countered that Canada had itself not specified what new sanctions it would impose.
In a series of Saturday interviews, Thatcher declined to reply to specific criticisms, but she was obviously pleased over what she called a victory over rhetoric and posturing.
Reiterating her basic argument that sanctions don't work and are even counterproductive, Thatcher told reporters: "We have won the argument. . . . They (the other 47) say they would like more sanctions and have made a declaration to that effect, but they have not put a single extra one on."