On 1 April 1989, the long-awaited transition period, leading to the independence of the south-west African Territory of Namibia, officially began.
General Prem Chand, military commander of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG), which is to monitor the year-long process, stood at attention and saluted as the UN flag was raised in the capital city of Windhoek.
"I have the sense that we are close to the moving edge of history", Martti Ahtisaari, the UN SecretaryGeneral's Special Representative for Namibia, had told the assembled crowd on his arrival at the Windhoek airport the day before.
He is to spearhead what he called the main task of UNTAG: supervision of free and fair elections of Namibian citizens to a Constituent Assembly, that is to draft a constitution for the new nation-the last step before independence. The Territory has been under South African rule for nearly eight decades. It has a population estimated in 1987 at 1.23 million, of which some 78,000 are white.
With a 4,650-strong military force contributed by 21 countries, a $416.2 million budget and about 2,000 civilian staff, including some 800 electoral supervisors and 500 professional police officers to monitor local police forces, UNTAG's Namibia operation is the largest the United Nations has organized since the one in the Congo in the 1960s.
The transition process, Mr. Ahtisaari said, "expresses a unique and pioneering vision: that South Africa and the UN, with all the disparate history each of us brings to this moment, can and will jointly strive, in all good faith, to assist the people of Namibia to independence, and with it, to their rightful place among the community of nations". Difficulties predicted
Turning to Namibia's top official, Administrator-General Louis Pienaar, Mr. Ahtisaari said: "I have no illusions about the difficulties that may lie ahead. We both know that many Namibians remain watchful, and are still unconvinced, even though we may stand on the edge of an epoch. Who can deny@ the multitude of problems there may be?"
In tact, the problems began almost immediately. Within hours of the official cease-fire-which took effect at, 0400 Greenwich mean time on 1 April-reports of armed insurgents crossing Namibia's northern border were received.
Over the next eight days, intense diplomatic consultations in New York, Windhoek and other African capitals took place, concerning the presence in Namibia of armed personnel of the South West Africa...