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Reconstructing a Shattered Country


THE DRAMATIC handshake of peace which stopped the fighting in Angola's 14-year-old civil war is unlikely to quickly erase enmities in that war-torn land. At least 20,000 civilians have lost limbs to landmines since the war erupted between the left-wing government and the Western-backed rebels rebels in 1975, when Angola gained independence from Portugal. Over 100,000 have died and 1.5 million need emergency food and other aid because fighting has disrupted their lives.

The cease-fire, which started Saturday, comes only six months after Angola signed a peace agreement with South Africa, ending an even larger-scale conflict on its southern frontier and launching a UN-supervised independence plan for Namibia.

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For the fragile peace to endure, Angolan President Jos'e Eduardo dos Santos and rebel leader Jonas Savimbi still must reconcile differing views on what steps should follow the gesture they made last Thursday at a summit meeting of 18 African heads of state in Zairian strongman Mobutu Sese Seko's lavishly modernized home village, Gbadolite.

The Marxist Angolan government version involves temporary exile for Mr. Savimbi and integration of his National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) into the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

UNITA officials deny that Savimbi will leave the country and say they want multi-party elections for a new government. Some of these differences may be resolved at a follow-up UNITA-MPLA meeting scheduled for later this week in Zaire.

Despite the uncertainties, the cease-fire has raised hopes in the region for a similar move in another war-wracked southern African nation - Mozambique. On returning home from Gbadolite, Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano invited the South African-backed Mozambique National Resistance Movement (RENAMO) to work with his government ``to create peace so that we can normalize the life of all citizens.''

Whatever comes next, the meeting will be remembered as a personal triumph for one of Africa's shrewdest politicians, President Mobutu. He ``pulled a rabbit out of a hat, when no one knew if the rabbit was there,'' says a Western diplomat.

According to a high-ranking African participant in the talks, Mobutu executed some deft maneuvers at a previous session in May in Angola so that this meeting would take place at his home just before a long-planned visit to Washington. This source claims that Mobutu did so partly to improve his tarnished image in the United States.

SOME US congressmen, led by Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.), have moved to stop most of Zaire's $37 million a year in US aid because of ``uncontrollable corruption'' and systematic human rights violations. But their anti-Mobutu bill may now be overshadowed by President Bush's plan, announced at the State Department Friday, to host a luncheon honoring the Zairian leader's peacemaking role.

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Others can also claim success. Washington - which angered many African governments by continuing to ship arms to UNITA through Zaire after the signing of a US-brokered Angola-South Africa-Cuba peace agreement in December - has now achieved a key goal: forcing the MPLA into talks with Savimbi.

Yet Angola's Cuban allies can point to their military success against South Africa in last year's pivotal battle of Cuito Cuanavale as having set the stage for peace. That battle was seen as key in prompting Pretoria to abandon any hope of placing Savimbi in power.

For Angola, the agreement could attract new investment from foreign firms which, even before the Gbadolite summit, were positioning themselves to profit from the rich mining opportunities peace might create.

Angola has long been a favorite for American oil companies, whose executives praise the ``business-like'' demeanor of the country's officially Marxist leaders. Oil exports last year made Angola - despite Washington's official hostility toward the government - the US's third largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa.

Angola was once the world's fourth largest gem diamond producer, and fierce competition is emerging for the right to revive a mining industry disrupted by war.

In March, a politically influential US businessman, African American Institute chairman Maurice Tempelsman, signed a deal to buy $20 million a year worth of Angolan diamonds. He expressed hope that his contract would lead to more ``mutually beneficial examples of economic cooperation between our two countries.'' Since Mr. Tempelsman signed, however, South Africa's De Beers corporation has stepped in with a bid to market Angola's entire diamond output, potentially worth more than $1 billion a year.

One UN estimate says Angola suffered $17 billion in physical destruction during the first 10 years of civil war. Yet economic reconstruction may prove simple compared with the task of rebuilding shattered lives.

Because of war, Angola's mortality rate for under-five-year-olds has soared to more than 325 per thousand, the United Nations Children's Fund reported in April. This tied with Mozambique for the highest rate in the world. Forty percent of Angola's children have been deprived of schooling by war, the group said, and hundreds of thousand ``have seen relatives and friends killed as well as their homes destroyed.''

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