JOHANNESBURG, SEPT. 7 -- In a dramatic four-cornered prisoner exchange in the Mozambican capital of Maputo, the South African government tonight swapped 133 captured Angolan soldiers and two French and Dutch security prisoners for a white South African Army commando officer who was captured two years ago while on a raid in northern Angola.
The exchange, which followed months of secret negotiations, removed irritants to Pretoria's relations with France and the Netherlands, and briefly relieved South Africa from its diplomatic isolation in Europe and southern Africa.
The aircraft parking ramp in front of Maputo's International Airport was the scene of the elaborate "exchange parade" at which the Angolan Army prisoners, dressed in track suits and running shoes, boarded an Angolan airliner. Another plane had brought South African Army Maj. Wynand du Toit, who was wounded and captured in the Angolan oil-producing exclave of Cabinda during a reported mission to blow up American-owned oil facilities there.
The Angolan prisoners had been held by South African and U.S.-supported anticommunist rebels of Jonas Savimbi's guerrilla organization, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
Released in the same ceremony were two foreign security prisoners who had been held in South Africa in connection with charges of helping the African National Congress, the main guerrilla force battling white minority rule here.
They are Pierre Andre Albertini, 27, a French national who had been sentenced to four years imprisonment in the ostensibly independent tribal "homeland" of Ciskei for refusing to testify at a terrorism trial, and Dutch citizen Klaas De Jonge, 50, a fugitive who for two years had taken refuge in offices of the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria following his arrest for alleged arms smuggling.
De Jonge and Albertini boarded a French aircraft for the flight to Europe, while du Toit boarded a South African executive jet for the trip to Cape Town. The exchange was carried out with the precision of a military parade while Angolan, South African and Mozambican officials and reporters and photographers watched from the terminal's roof.
The exchange was made just after 9 p.m., following several delays. Du Toit was handed over to South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha and flown to Cape Town where, after a reunion with his wife and four-year-old son, he is expected to be welcomed by South African President Pieter W. Botha.
The negotiations involved the governments of South Africa, France, the Netherlands, Angola, Mozambique, Ciskei, and leaders of UNITA, prompting some South African officials to predict optimistically a "new era" in regional negotiations.
Deputy Foreign Minister Kobus Meiring told the South African Parliament today, "The message from Maputo is one of reason and not one of conflict. . . . These events have far wider implications than the reuniting of a family. . . . They are a triumph for negotiation and diplomatic initiatives."
The complex exchange talks also briefly enhanced the stature of the South African-backed UNITA rebels, who found themselves elevated to a negotiating status equal to that of five national governments.
Mozambique's minister of cooperation, Army Gen. Jacinto Veloso, played a key role as broker after he visited Pik Botha's home in Cape Town three weeks ago on a mission to patch up relations related to allegations of South African-support for a July attack by anti-communist rebels. Botha told reporters that while he and Veloso were alone on his patio after lunch, they agreed to speed up plans for the exchange. The foreign minister was said to be concerned about reports of a deterioration of du Toit's mental and physical condition during his two years in captivity.
Du Toit, who was promoted from captain while in prison, was wounded and captured in May 1985, during a commando mission in Angola with UNITA guerrillas. The mission was reported to be against oil installations, although South Africa has maintained it was a reconnaissance mission on a base of the African National Congress. Two South African soldiers with him were killed.
French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac also played a pivotal role in the exchange, using his government's influence in Mozambique to establish a negotiating link with the Marxist government in Luanda, South African diplomatic sources said.
Chirac acted after French President Francois Mitterrand made the imprisonment of Albertini last April a major diplomatic issue, refusing to accept the credentials of South Africa's designated ambassador to France, Hennie Geldenhuys, until Albertini was released.
Albertini, who when arrested was fulfilling his French national service by doing social work in Ciskei, was examined by a physician after being driven from Middleburg Prison to the Ciskei airport. He was then handed over to South African officials and flown to Maputo with Geldenhuys.
South African officials said the complex agreement for the exchange nearly came unraveled two weeks ago when it was prematurely announced by a Ciskei minister. New delays were encountered when the Angolan government expanded its list of prisoners being held by UNITA to 146, including a doctor and seven Cuban soldiers whom negotiators could not verify as being captives. Eventually, South Africa promised to release the missing prisoners if they were found after the exchange.
Dutch hostage De Jonge, who had been charged with smuggling arms to the ANC, took refuge in Dutch Embassy annex offices in Pretoria in July 1985, when he told police he would show them a weapons cache there. Since then, he has been under a 24-hour guard by two Dutch policemen and a South African police contingent.
De Jonge's former wife, Helene Pastoors, a Belgian, is serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges of treason. Dutch officials have said that De Jonge could be prosecuted when he returns to the Netherlands.
The Angolan war prisoners were flown from South African-controlled Namibia (South-West Africa) on flights carefully coordinated with the flights from Luanda, Pretoria and Ciskei carrying du Toit, De Jonge and Albertini so that all of the aircraft arrived in Maputo at approximately the same time.
There has been speculation, based on a statement made by the South African president last year, that the release of du Toit could pave the way for the release of imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela. Botha said then that if du Toit and Soviet prisoners Andrei Sakharov and Anatoly Shcharansky were freed on humanitarian grounds, he would consider doing the same for Mandela.
Colin Eglin, leader of the opposition Progressive Federal Party, today noted that Shcharansky had been released to Israel and Sakharov was freed in Moscow. He called on Botha to release Mandela.