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A Step Closer to Peace in Angola?

The government and rebels express support for an emerging UN-brokered peace plan, even as fighting intensifies

A PEACE package is emerging in Angola after eight months of United Nations-brokered talks, with both sides expressing tentative support.

But fighting continues to intensify, and diplomats and aid workers say they doubt the political will exists to implement progress at the negotiating table in an increasingly polarized military situation.

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``It seems that those in government who believe a military solution is possible have the upper hand at present, and the same can be said of UNITA,'' said a Western diplomat close to peace efforts in Angola.

Officials of both Angola's ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, and Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebel movement, have recently expressed optimism about progress toward a cease-fire in the country's 19-year-old civil war.

Fighting resumed after Mr. Savimbi rejected the outcome of UN-monitored elections in September 1992. An 18-month truce was shattered when UNITA challenged the election results - the party fared poorly in the parliamentary poll - and fighting broke out in the capital, Luanda.

The government is hopeful that a political settlement and a cease-fire agreement could be reached in a matter of weeks.

``We are hoping for an agreement by the end of this month or the beginning of July,'' says Carlos Feijo, an official who briefs President Jose Eduardo dos Santos on progress at the peace talks being held in the Zambian capital of Lusaka.

``But it will depend on UNITA.... They have let us down before,'' Mr. Feijo told the Monitor here. Feijo and two other Angolan officials were attending the southern Africa summit of the World Economic Forum held here June 9 and 10.

UNITA in the government

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Feijo said government and UNITA negotiators had agreed on a detailed distribution of offices, which would form the basis of UNITA accepting the 1992 election result and taking its place in government.

On Saturday, government and UNITA negotiators agreed that UNITA would take up all 70 seats it had won in the 220-member parliament in the 1992 election.

After the election, only 10 of the 70 UNITA legislators took their seats, and Savimbi has since criticized them and branded at least two as traitors. Some of the other legislators were arrested by the government and some have been killed.

UNITA negotiators in Lusaka appeared last week to accept a new offer by the government, which was formulated after consultation with the international community and an exchange of letters between President Clinton and Mr. Dos Santos. The government made concessions to UNITA after international pressure.

``We have analyzed the documents from the UN mediation and the government ... and we see an opening for a solution to the Angolan crisis. And, in this spirit, we accept whatever these [documents] say to achieve peace,'' UNITA spokesman Jorge Valentim said.

Feijo says that under the settlement plan, UNITA would get four Cabinet posts, seven deputy ministerial positions, three provincial governorships, six embassies, 30 municipal administrators, and 75 communal administrators.

But he insists that the government would not agree to UNITA's demand for the governorship of Huambo Province, which the rebel movement controls.

The talks have yet to define the precise role that Savimbi would play in the government. Feijo insisted that UNITA officials would enter the government as individuals, since Angola's government was already a government of national reconciliation, which UNITA had rejected.

``We have made an offer and not a proposal,'' he said. ``The only reason we need to accommodate UNITA is because they are pursuing the war. It is the party that won the election that will formulate policy.''

The fighting continues

Diplomats and aid workers have reported heavy fighting in several parts of the country.

Government forces have been bombing the UNITA-held capital of Huambo Province in the central highlands, have recently taken the strategic town of Ndalatanda, west of Luanda, and have launched an offensive against UNITA positions in towns like Kafunfo in the diamond-rich northeast Lunde Norte Province.

Heavy UNITA shelling has been reported around the government-held provincial capitals of Malanje, east of Luanda, and Cuito, the capital of Bie Province, east of Huambo. There are also reports of UNITA soldiers fighting alongside separatists in the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda in the north.

On Friday, Angolan state radio reported that UNITA rebels shelled the airport at Balombo, about 120 miles east of the port of Lobito, while a UN World Food Programme aircraft was on the ground. ``It is difficult to say who has the military upper hand at this stage,'' the diplomat says.

Feijo denies that the government was on the offensive but conceded that it had strengthened its military position in relation to UNITA. ``What has improved is our defensive capacity. We have been able to halt UNITA's progress ... we are in a strong position. UNITA's strategy is to maintain military pressure on government in order to win further concessions at the negotiating table,'' Feijo says.

Diplomats estimate that the government has received $1 billion of weapons in the past year, including 1,000 missiles from Brazil, and that both sides have strengthened their military capacity through compulsory conscription.

Feijo says that while UNITA's supply routes - both for fuel and arms - were through Zaire, Western countries could contribute to a settlement by closing UNITA's diplomatic offices in Washington, London, Paris, and Bonn. ``The Western countries cannot allow these activities to continue while UNITA goes on fighting inside the country,'' he says.

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