The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola is alarmed at being left out of US-sponsored negotiations to end Angola's 13-year-old civil war. As a result, the guerrilla group's leader says he is looking to start a separate peace initiative with other African nations. Interviewed at his headquarters here in southeastern Angola, Jonas Savimbi said the current talks are bypassing the issue most critical to achieving peace: a settlement between UNITA, as his group is known, and the Soviet-backed Marxist government in Luanda.
``If there is no agreement between UNITA and [Luanda], there will be no cease-fire,'' Dr. Savimbi warned.
Through United States' mediation, South Africa, Cuba, and Angola recently agreed to a cease-fire and the pullout of South African troops. They meet again on Wednesday in Brazzaville, Congo, to discuss Cuba's withdrawal from Angola.
And although UNITA - which is supported by South Africa and the US - is being kept abreast of the meetings, Savimbi said it is not enough. Thus, the move by certain African leaders to initiate direct negotiations between UNITA and Luanda. Indeed, Savimbi has just returned from a six-day tour of several African countries to discuss how to get the two sides talking.
``The train of the international dimension is running too fast, too far away, without the African train even starting to move,'' he said. ``So they [African leaders] want to catch up.''
Although it is unclear whether the initiative will work, it signals a growing realization - at least among African nations - that the conflict will not end unless the two warring Angolan parties come to a power-sharing agreement. As many of these countries apparently see it, the current US-mediated talks will succeed only in getting South African and Cuban troops out.
Savimbi - clad in camouflage fatigues and red beret - declined to name those involved in the move. He said only that leaders from at least 20 nations supported it, including Congo and two others in southern Africa. The reason: They are worried about what Savimbi characterized as Angolan President Jos'e Eduardo dos Santos's continuing warlike stance.
Mr. dos Santos apparently told these leaders he is planning an offensive to wipe out UNITA, which currently controls about one-third of this Texas-sized country. They said dos Santos believes UNITA will be highly vulnerable once United Nations peacekeeping troops are deployed along the border with Namibia (South-West Africa), thus cutting off logistical support from South Africa.
(In exchange for a pullout of Cuban soldiers, South Africa will be required to grant independence to Namibia, which it rules in defiance of UN resolutions calling for its withdrawal).
But Savimbi said UNITA would have no problems continuing to fight, even if the US stopped sending anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. (US Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis has said he will cut off aid to UNITA if he wins). Savimbi contends he has the backing of certain Arab countries - Morocco among them - that are willing to pick up the tab.
``I will have the means,'' he declared. ``And I know how to buy guns all over the world. I have some dollars with me already which didn't come from South Africa or America.''
So, to avoid dragging out the war - which has cost Angola (population: 8.6 million) about 60,000 lives - these African leaders will try to isolate dos Santos to force him to the bargaining table, Savimbi explained. This is why he jetted off to various capitals last week to beseech heads of state ``to appease [dos Santos] if he has fears of negotiating with us.''
Dos Santos has said he refuses to deal with UNITA and Savimbi, characterizing them as South African puppets. In the interview, Savimbi maintained he would not insist on being directly involved in the bargaining.
Instead, UNITA's Central Committee would pick a delegation that conceivably could exclude him, he said. ``When [dos Santos] accepts [negotiations], that doesn't mean I'm going to go running after him.''
UNITA is pushing for a multiparty democracy and a mixed economy based on agriculture - not oil, which currently is Angola's main export.
Despite the obvious obstacles to achieving those aims, Savimbi sees a certain inevitablity to being included in some form of negotiations.
``If they agree on the cease-fire, all of them, UNITA will continue to carry on actions,'' he said. ``Because who is going to tell us to stop? Nobody.''