WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA, APRIL 6 -- A week ago, skeptics were wondering what treachery South Africa would employ to renege on its promise to end 74 years of control of mineral-rich South-West Africa now that Cuban troops have begun withdrawing from Angola. Sam Nujoma, leader of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), was poised to return to Namibia -- as it is now known -- as a liberation hero after 30 years in exile and lead his party to victory in independence elections on Nov. 1. The U.N. peace-keeping force was basking in the glow of a Nobel Peace Prize, busy with the bureaucratic details of setting up an infrastructure for monitoring free and fair elections in Namibia in what will be the largest peace-keeping task in U.N. history. Today, not even a week after the much-heralded start-up of the process of making "Africa's last colony" independent, the major players in the historic drama have had their world turned upside down. The South Africans, stung by a massive cross-border incursion by 1,200 heavily armed SWAPO guerrillas in the early morning hours last Saturday, are viewed in much of the world as an aggrieved party, boisterously shouting "foul" but nonetheless showing some restraint in the face of a flagrant violation of the Dec. 22 regional peace agreement that it signed at considerable strategic and political risk. Nujoma has been widely criticized as snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and imperiling a U.S.-brokered peace agreement that took eight years to hammer out with unprecedented mutual cooperation by the superpowers. The U.S. State Department has accused SWAPO of a "clear violation" of the agreement. In 1973, the U.N. General Assembly recognized Nujoma's movement as "the sole and authentic representatives of the Namibian people." Now it is being asked whether he can survive the blunder of launching a military invasion just six weeks before he and his guerrillas could have legally walked across the border and won almost certain political victory at the ballot box. Assessments by diplomats and U.N. officials accuse Nujoma of an appalling ignorance of the provisions of the treaty that was supposed to have set his homeland free and of making a tactical miscalculation unparalleled in liberation politics. The events of the past week have also not been kind to the blue-bereted U.N. peace keepers, who have been ridiculed as ineffective in the face of the unexpected SWAPO onslaught and whose administrators have been accused of being unprepared. But with only about 120 troops so far to monitor more than 185 miles of bush country along the Angolan border, the tiny vanguard of the U.N. Transition Assistance Group could hardly be expected, analysts say, to monitor much more than the South African army bases in which they are billeted. Because of budget haggling in the U.N. Security Council, the peace-keeping force's funding was trimmed from $700 million to $416 million, and its troop strength from 7,500 to 4,650. More importantly, its lead time for setting up an operation here was cut from six weeks to a month. Like others, the U.N. force was caught unaware by the SWAPO incursion, and its inadequate force -- just 15 percent of the intended troop strength -- is bearing the brunt of the recriminations over how the incursion was handled. Namibians see smartly dressed U.N. soldiers from Denmark and Finland shopping for African curios along Windhoek's Kaiser Street or drinking beer in the hotel bars and wonder why they are not up north, stopping the fighting that already has claimed more than 230 lives. At the main entrance to the territorial army base at Oshakati, 30 miles south of the Angolan border, a Pakistani U.N. officer occasionally interrupts the thriller novel he is reading to jot down the registration numbers of passing cars. Observers question why he has not been deployed to monitor the search-and-destroy missions of the feared counterinsurgency policemen. The police and their army backup have been accused by human rights monitoring groups of waging a take-no-prisoners pogrom against fleeing SWAPO guerrilla squads and of indiscriminately firing into villages and wounding numerous civilians. But it is SWAPO and Nujoma whose images stand to suffer most after the cross-border incursion on the morning of what was supposed to be a historic day in the annals of African decolonization. Nujoma is an enigma to many observers of African politics, and his motives for first ordering and now defending the incursion continue to baffle the people who negotiated the agreement that was virtually certain to have made him president of independent Namibia. The SWAPO leader insists that his guerrillas were already inside Namibia before Saturday and that he merely ordered them to assemble in makeshift bases and await the protection of the U.N. peace keepers. Since he was not a signatory to the Dec. 22 agreement and since the accord makes no specific provision for SWAPO guerrillas inside the territory on April 1, he was within his rights to issue the orders, Nujoma says. But U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, in a closed-door report to the Security Council on Monday, said there was a SWAPO infiltration of the border, even though it may not have had an "offensive intent." This view was reinforced by SWAPO guerrillas captured in the first day of fighting and interviewed by U.N. officials, Namibian church leaders and journalists. The guerrillas said they were ordered to cross the border with their weapons -- AK-47 assault rifles, mortars, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and Soviet-made, shoulder-launched antiaircraft missiles -- and establish bases under the protection of the U.N. force. Their leaders apparently did not tell them that the U.N. peace-keeping force in the border area was virtually nonexistent, that their incursion was likely to be viewed as a hostile act by the South African-led troops and that under the Dec. 22 peace accord, they were supposed to be moving north to SWAPO bases above the 16th Parallel in Angola, up to 200 miles from the Namibian border. "It was either a colossal bungle or one of the most callous orders ever issued in guerrilla warfare. They blindly walked into a turkey shoot thinking we were going to be there to take care of them," one U.N. official said. Even more surprising, U.N. observers said, is the fact that instead of slipping across the border in groups of four or five, thereby frustrating tracking efforts of the South African security forces, the guerrillas made themselves easy targets by going across in groups of 50 or more. Nujoma's goal, according to diplomats who know him well, is to establish a SWAPO military presence in Namibia before the election process gets under way to buttress his movement's claim of responsibility for achieving independence and polishing his own image as a military hero. The challenge to the peace makers now, U.N. officials who are involved in cease-fire negotiations said, is to persuade Nujoma that he should abandon such dreams, while still giving him a face-saving concession. The concession, U.N. officials said, could be a surrender of SWAPO forces in Namibia to hastily flown-in U.N. units and internment of the guerrillas in U.N.-supervised camps until repatriation of exiled Namibian refugees begins in mid-May. Meanwhile, an emergency meeting was set for this weekend to seek an end to the border fighting as the death toll rose to at least 210 guerrillas and 24 security force members. Senior diplomats from the United States, the Soviet Union, Cuba, Angola and South Africa are to take part, with Chester A. Crocker, outgoing assistant secretary of state for African affairs, heading the U.S. delegation, diplomatic sources said. The sources noted, however, that leaders of SWAPO's military wing will not be present and that any decisions would have to be approved by Nujoma.