The April 1989 skirmishes nearly derailed the Namibian peace process and would have delayed independence for many years.

The skirmishes could also have adversely affected democratisation of South Africa that transitioned from apartheid to majority rule in April 1994 after the release from prison of the ANC’s Nelson Mandela.

This was revealed to New Era on Friday in an interview with Martti Ahtisaari, who in 1989 was the special representative to Namibia of the UN secretary general mandated to oversee the peace process that led to Namibian independence.

Ahtisaari is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a former Finnish president. He played a key role in negotiations for Namibia’s independence.

The skirmishes he was referring involved clashes in April 1989 between PLAN fighters and South African soldiers, which resulted in almost 400 Namibian combatants losing their lives to illegal South African apartheid forces, which had totalled about 40 000 troops in Namibia during the height of the liberation struggle.

The deployment of 8 000 military and civilian peace monitors of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (Untag) resulted from the Brazzaville Protocol of 1988 that had committed to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 435 that also called for the withdrawal of 30 000 Cuban troops from Angola.

The historic accord had also called for an end to apartheid, the democratisation of South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island prison.

“The South Africans said if Untag failed in Namibia it would have delayed for years democracy in South Africa,” the Nobel peace laureate said in the interview.

“The most important thing was that we had to get out of that mess. There was the danger South Africa wanted to use this to delay the peace process,” reminisced Ahtisaari.

“It was a very unfortunate event and had we failed there was a danger South Africa would have used that to delay the process,” he said.

Ahtisaari said the April 1989 breach of ceasefire was the worst occurrence handled by him and other negotiators from Swapo, South Africa, Cuba, Angola and Russia.

He said despite the tension and mistrust between Swapo and the South Africans he “managed to calm down the situation and we had very peaceful elections. Because no one wanted this to fail.”

When asked what was the cause of the skirmish the former senior UN diplomat said, “I don’t know. This is something that was internal. That knowledge is not with us.”

He also revealed Untag dealt with falsehoods during the political campaigns for the historic elections in November 1989.

“There were sometimes accusations made that ‘Swapo was doing this and that’ and we very quickly found out it had nothing to do with Swapo. We had very good technical capabilities of monitoring the situation. If somebody tried to pass wrong information and accuse the other side we could easily say ‘sorry this is not the case’ and we had enough evidence,” he recalled.

Ahtisaari who was among special guests that attended Namibia’s silver jubilee celebrations also heaped praise on the Swapo-led government for reconciling the nation, for being inclusive and embarking on policies geared towards development.

“I am positively impressed and I have said it to everyone – the fact that you have free primary education and now you are hoping to move to free secondary education for boys and girls. You have gender balance in parliamentary elections, which is better than anywhere else in the world, better than in my country. So I am very proud because it means that first of all education and health care is given to every citizen whether you are a girl or a boy, whether you are rich or poor,” he said.

On the policy of national reconciliation, the former Finnish president said, “And you are utilising reconciliation in the society that even if you belong to an opposing party you have a chance to work, establish your own company, be employed by government, and if you have the capacity and people the organisations try to utilise you, and that to me is very important because we can’t waste any talent that society has.”

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