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Angolan rivals vie for US ear. Government and rebels make their cases in Washington

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The Angolan war has been raging in Washington over the past week. Angolans on both sides of the conflict and their American supporters have been lobbying hard. Debate on Angola swirls at several levels: the legitimacy of the government versus that of its adversaries; the role of the medium powers, Cuba and South Africa; and superpower politics. Each of these levels is a prism through which those in the debate are shaping their perspectives.

Some people on both sides are posing the issue in simplistic terms, based on their views about apartheid - the antigovernment forces are backed by South Africa - or about the Marxist government of Angola, which is held together by communist aid. But the Angolan conflict is extremely complex. The civil war raged even before Angola's independence in 1975. It has been progressively complicated by significant foreign intervention by Cuba, South Africa, and the superpowers.

From a US perspective, the current situation appears fraught with contradiction. The administration is aiding the antigovernment National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and does not recognize Angola's Marxist government.

But Cuban troops protect US oil investments in Angola, the profits of which finance the Cuban presence and massive purchases of Soviet arms.

UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi is in Washington this week trying to build credibility, in part, so US support for his movement will survive the presidential elections. The Reagan administration has provided UNITA with covert aid for two years to counter Soviet and Cuban aid to the Angolan government.

Mr. Savimbi argues the time is ripe for ending Angola's 13-year civil war and reconciling his movement with the government, dominated by the Popular Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA). He is proposing direct talks, with no preconditions, leading to a unity government and national elections.

The Angolan government, however, is matching Savimbi blow for blow with an advertising campaign accusing Savimbi of being South Africa's secret agent. Two senior Angolan ministers are also in Washington to present the government's position.

The ministers say the government will never negotiate with Savimbi but, once foreign aid to UNITA has stopped, it will reintegrate individual UNITA members into the government. They note that all African states except South Africa recognize their government.


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