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

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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.

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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.

Why all this lobbying now?

There is movement on US-sponsored talks to win the withdrawal of the approximately 45,000 thousand Cuban troops from Angola and of South African troops from Angola (up to 5,000) and Namibia (about 22,000). Namibia would become independent in the process.

But the Angolan government wants all outside aid to UNITA cut before any Cubans leave. UNITA and the Reagan administration would like to see direct MPLA-UNITA talks leading to reconciliation in parallel to the troop withdrawal talks.

The US presidential elections are approaching. A wide range of black American leaders, including Jesse Jackson, have linked support for UNITA with the question of apartheid in South Africa. They argue that South African military support for UNITA is part of that country's efforts to destabilize the region, and the US should distance itself by cutting off all aid.

On the other side, the administration and others argue that UNITA represents a large proportion of Angola's population and controls about one-third of Angola's territory. According to a senior US official, in private talks even Soviet officials estimate that Savimbi has the support of about 40 percent of the population.

Senior officials and lawmakers also argue that the US policy of staying out of Angola between 1976 and 1986 left a vacuum that Cuba, the Soviet Union, and South Africa were able to fill. Cuban troop presence increased from 14,000 in 1976 to 32,000 in 1986 to up to 50,000 today, they say. Simultaneously, they say Moscow poured in about $5.6 billion in weaponry. These sources argue US involvement has helped make a solution possible.

Secretary of State George Shultz pressed the visiting Angolan ministers to talk with UNITA, sparking complaints by them that was imposing new linkage by calling for reconciliation talks in parallel with troop withdrawal talks.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona has organized a bipartisan Angolan Task Force to promote national reconciliation. Several members inserted language in pending legislation offering US aid if UNITA and the MPLA can work together for free elections and if all foreign troops are removed.

Some pro-reconciliation task force members even tried to get the Angolan ministers to meet with Savimbi this week, say congressional sources, but the ministers declined.

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