JUST one month after Angolans peacefully thronged polling stations in their first multiparty election ever, the conflict-battered southern African country is on the brink of all-out war. Even if international condemnation persuades the rebel group UNITA to halt its present offensive, months of uncertainty could pass before a runoff is held between President Eduardo dos Santos, who won 49.6 percent of the vote, and UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, who got 40.1 percent.
Although Mr. Savimbi was persuaded to accept the election results, which also gave the ruling MPLA a 129-to-70 margin over UNITA in the 220-seat legislature, he still claims the election was marked by massive fraud. Despite lack of support from his former patrons in the United States and South Africa, he has repeatedly threatened to take up arms again.
After the late September vote, UNITA generals withdrew from the formally merged national Army. Savimbi's threats delayed release of the vote totals for two weeks, and incidents of violence have increased ominously.
The international community, including the US, has been unanimous in urging Savimbi to accept the election results. But Savimbi and his closely knit group of top officers remain both unpredictable and militarily potent. Wartime suspicion is close to the surface, and there are abundant arms and trained men left from earlier years. The new conflict, which appears to be starting, will be hard to contain.
If that happens, it will be a tragic sequel to what was an exemplary cease-fire and election process. Coming just 16 months after the May 1991 cease-fire, the Angolan elections faced enormous practical difficulties. Roads are mined; the country's population is almost 60 percent illiterate; and there has been large-scale movement of rural people since the last census in 1970. The country still has separate armies despite the peace-accord proviso that they be demobilized and that a new national Army be cre ated.