JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Amid rising criticism of its deepening involvement in the Angolan civil war, South Africa announced Friday that five more of its soldiers had been killed in cross-border fighting against what it described as Soviet-commanded and Cuban-supported Angolan government troops.
A terse communique from defense headquarters in Pretoria said that two soldiers died in a major battle Monday in addition to the four deaths reported earlier, and that three more died in continuing skirmishes Wednesday.
The latest casualties brought to 23 the number of South African soldiers reported killed in Angola over the past two weeks.
Most of the recent fighting has occurred in Cuando Cubango province, in the corner of southeastern Angola, where an 18,000-man government task force was attacking the guerrillas' positions around Mavinga that, in turn, protect the rebels' headquarters at Jamba.
The military spokesman refused to provide further information on the fighting, although state-run Radio South Africa reported that the clashes were continuing on a smaller scale.
Heavy Casualties Rumored
Rumors, most of them coming from military and government sources, continue to circulate that the South African forces, particularly the 32nd Battalion made up mostly of anti-Communist Angolans, suffered very heavy casualties in the fighting.
One source added that President Pieter W. Botha ordered that the official announcements, whether of further deaths or the battlefield situation, be "appropriately spaced . . . and carefully phrased" for controlled political impact.
"Our people will be told all they need to know when we think it is possible," Commandant Ian Buck said at defense headquarters, refusing to answer any questions on the government announcement.
Liberal politicians, newspapers and anti-apartheid activists all warned Friday that South Africa, through its increased cross-border operations, risks being drawn into an unwinnable conflict with not only nearby Angola but also the Soviet Union, principal backer of the Marxist government in Luanda.
"Where is it all leading this country, except deeper into the morass?" the Johannesburg Star, the country's largest daily newspaper, asked. South Africans were concerned, it added, that "their country's involvement in Angola was entering a new and dangerous dimension."
Government Secrecy Criticized
Business Day, a Johannesburg financial newspaper, criticized the government's secrecy. "Once again our forces are engaged in a conflict about which South Africans themselves know virtually nothing," the paper declared.
Similar criticism came from members of the opposition Progressive Federal Party, from the United Democratic Front and its affiliates and from the End Conscription Campaign.
"We believe that as the conflict intensifies . . . more and more conscripts will face a real crisis of confidence in choosing whether or not to serve in the South African Defense Force," the End Conscription Campaign said, demanding that the government make known the exact number of casualties.
Tanya Hannath, the sister of one of those killed Monday, said: "Nobody knows what's going on up there."
But the Botha government appeared unlikely to back away.
Radio South Africa, which reflects government views, argued in its morning commentary that the intervention was necessary to counter Soviet designs on South Africa and on the neighboring territory of Namibia, a former German colony that Pretoria administers.
"The countermeasures taken by South Africa have been essential," the state radio said. "Above all, they are dictated by the knowledge that the ultimate target of Soviet expansionism in southern Africa is South Africa itself."