Gen. Magnus Malan, the South African defense minister, warned neighboring countries earlier Wednesday that Pretoria, while not seeking confrontation, "insists" as the strongest power in southern Africa on the right to "formulate ground rules for interaction in the region."
"Whenever our sovereignty and territorial integrity are endangered by the export of revolution by or from neighboring countries, we will not hesitate to take preemptive action," Malan said.
'Protect African Freedom'
"We will not interfere in the domestic affairs of others," he said, speaking to a group of visiting conservative Americans, "but where we are called upon to protect African freedom against the tyranny of foreign oppression, we will respond."
While Savimbi might be gratified by the strong South African commitment, he is likely to be embarrassed by Pretoria's timing. South Africa's announcement asserting that its forces were responsible for the victory came at the very moment that Savimbi, in a press conference at Jamba, in southeastern Angola, was claiming credit.
Malan, the South African defense minister, acknowledged last month that Pretoria maintains a "limited presence in Angola to protect its interests," but other officials said he was referring only to infiltration of Namibian insurgents and not support for UNITA, although that has long been an open secret.
UNITA, despite South African assistance, lost out in a civil war after Angolan independence from Portugal in 1975 when the United States abruptly withdrew its support. For the past decade, it has fought a guerrilla war, seeking a power-sharing agreement with the Marxist government in Luanda, and two years ago it began receiving limited American military assistance again.