Zimbabwe-Rhodesian warplanes hit Patriotic Front guerrilla targets in Zambia and Mozambique today, despite expectations that the peace talks in London are just days away from a successful conclusion.
The Zimbawbe-Rhodesian military command announced in Salisbury that, unlike recent cross-border attacks, the raids only hit guerilla targets and not Zambian or Mozambican targets.
There was no information on casualties or where the bombings took place. Neither Zambia nor Mozambique issued any reports on the attacks.
Military sources in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia said that ground troops also took part in the raid into Mozambique but gave no further details, news services reported.
[In London, Patriotic Front delegates at the slow-moving Rhodesia settlement talks -- now entering their 14th week -- immediately condemned the air strikes as "outrageous."]
[Willie Muzarurwa, chief spokesman for Front coleader Joshua Nkomo, said, "The Rhodesians are not serious about a settlement. These raids show their mood. They talk about peace while they prepare for war."]
As the London talks move toward a settlement, the Patriotic Front guerilla -- particularly Joshua Nkomo's Zambia-based forces -- are trying to push as many troops as possible into Zimbabwe-Rhodesia before the settlement bans armed infiltration.
In response, the Salisbury government of Bishop Abel Muzorewa increasingly has hit road and rail targets in the neighboring countries, ostensibly to prevent infiltration. Knocking out bridges and rail lines, however, also will make it harder for refugees supporting the Front to return to their homeland to vote in elections which are part of a settlement. The Front agreed Wednesday to the principles of British cease-fire proposals, leaving only details -- such as location to be worked out. British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, chairman of the conference, said the talks should be wrapped up "in a few days."
The Front has until now been successful in spinning out the conference, gaining concessions from the British and more time to infiltrate guerillas, much to the annoyance of Muzorewa.
It is estimated that Nkomo has pushed at least a thousand more troops across the border in the three months since the conference started, with entries escalating in recent weeks. That would still leave him with only about 4,000 guerillas in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, many fewer than the estimated 12,000 of Front coleader Robert Mugabe, whose forces are based in Mozambique.
When an agreement is signed in London by all parties to the Rhodesia settlement, cross-border military activity would stop. At that time, peaceful crossings of the river will play a key role in one of the largest organized movements of refugees ever attempted over a short period. Perhaps 150,000 refugees are to be repatriated from Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana before elections in late Februrary or March.
Even though the repatriation is expected to begin in about a month, there is no evidence yet of any concrete planning for it by the British, the host governments, the guerilla organizations or the relief organizations likely to be involved.
Everybody appears to be waiting for a settlement. Relief officials from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Zambia Christian Refugee Service warn that there will be serious difficulties in trying to move so many people in two months.
There are upwards of 200,000 refugees in the three countries, almost all of whom have arrived during the last two years as the war intensified. Those in Zambia have increased from 5,000 to about 50,000 since 1977. Mozambique now has about 120,000 and Botswana about 20,000 although relief officials say the figures are rough since they have varying degrees of control in the camps. In addition, there are about 2,000 guerillas in Zambia and Mozambique who could return as refugees if unarmed.
Although Mozambique has the greatest number of refugees, most are near the border. Zambia's refugees present the greatest logistical problem, since most of them are from the border. Road access is difficult because many bridges have been destroyed, and roads on both sides of the border must be cleared of mines.
Zambia's lone remaining railway line, which crosses the Zambize River at Victoria Falls, is backlogged with vital supplies for the drought-stricken country. Outgoing trains haul copper, Zambia's main source of foreign exchange.
Analysts familiar with the railway say sometimes only one train a day moves in each direction, and the 300-mile trip from Lusaka to the border takes 12 hours. Movement of passenger cars for the refugees doubtlessly would cause further strain on the system, which currently only hauls freight to and from the south.
The biggest problem is likely to occur when the refugees get back to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, where most of their villages have been destroyed. Facilities will have to be provided for them, and the aid they currently are getting will have to move across the border with them.
The returning refugees will swell the total of displaces persons in the country -- already estimated at between 500,000 and 750,000, approximately 10 percent of the population.
Still the British are confident that cooperation will be forthcoming quickly once there is a settlement. The guerrillas will need to get their people back to vote and Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana will be eager to have the economic and political burden of the refugees removed.