At the command post for "Operational Area Hurricane," set up 60 miles northeast of Salisbury to monitor the Rhodesian cease-fire, the atmosphere could be described as idyllic even though this was a region of heavy fighting in the seven years of civil war.
The five-man Australian cease-fire monitoring force is headquartered at the Coach House Inn, a lovely resort outside the provincial capital. Working with the Australians was a man who called himself Comrade Mao, a Patriotic Front liasion officer who until recently was fighting in the bush.
Mao called Australian Lt. Col. Les Hubble, who headed the monitoring team, Comrade Hubble. The guerrilla, wearing a camouflage jacket, said he had no problems with the fact that he was staying at a resort frequented by whites. For years, most Rhodesian whites have regarded his Zimbabwe African National Union, headed by Robert Mugabe, as a hated enemy.
"Not all whites are our enemy," said Mao, 27. "The people we consider our enemies are the racist soldiers. The broad masses of the people sympathize with our cause."
The white guests sipped tea in the lounge, joined by journalists and some of the Australian troops, all ignoring a sign saying "collar and ties at all times."
It fell to the Australian command to bring in the only large group of guerrillas who turned themselves in yesterday, the first day of the truce. About 100 reported at an assembly point to the north.
Monitoring forces, accompanied by Patriotic Front liaison officers like Comrade Mao, are based at four assembly points and are in radio communication with Col. Hubble's command post.
Mao communicates with his forces and Hubble with his and then "he and I talk together," the Australian said.
Hubble said that of the 100 who had assembled, some had returned to the bush to try to "recruit" others. He called the cooperation "tremendous."
Warrant Officer Mike Lewis said the Patriotic Front officer he dealt with at a rendezvous point was "apprehensive" when he arrived, but the Australian gift for gab apparently broke the ice.
"He had a cup of coffee, I gave him a pack of smokes . . . We talked about kids, farming. It was just like talking to a friend back home. We became good mates," said Lewis.
There was no question, though, that the cease-fire is fragile here. No monitoring forces or journalists ventured out of town.
At the Coach House Inn, whatever future that Rhodesia faces could wait. The pool is surrounded by thatched shade areas. A single room costs $14 a night, including breakfast. A New Year's Eve dinner dance, featuring filet mignon, is to cost $25. The dres is formal, raising a problem for Comrade Mao's camouflage jacket.