Congress Keeps Wary Eye on Angola. Debate continues over aid to Savimbi amid charges of UNITA human rights violations

FOREIGN POLICY: SOUTHERN AFRICA

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE recent flare-up in Namibia has again drawn Washington's attention to the still-simmering civil war in Angola. The Namibia incidents heightened concern about the promises of Cuba and the Angolan government to withdraw all Cuban troops from Angola by July 1991 as part of the US-mediated accords on southwestern Africa signed in December.

The House of Representatives last week passed an amendment bolstering requirements for the administration to monitor Cuba's compliance with its withdrawal commitments. The amendment mandates an immediate cutoff of United States funding for United Nations operations in Namibia, if Cuba violates its commitments for a graduated pullout.

The Namibia clashes brought to light political skirmishes in Washington related to Angola's civil strife.

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Supporters of the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) are urging the US to keep up political pressure on the Angolan government to negotiate an end to the 14-year civil strife. Four key senators have sent the administration draft legislation intended to embody these goals as well as ensure that Cuba meets its commitments.

Some congressional and UNITA sources say the congressional intelligence committees are, or soon will be, considering a boost in covert military assistance to the guerrilla group. (This could not be confirmed as intelligence committee deliberations are secret.)

UNITA sources have suggested they would like to receive about $50 million annually to help UNITA weather the cutoff of aid from South Africa and the end of its free access to Namibia. Press reports say UNITA is getting about $30 million this year from the US, up from about $15 million last year. (The Soviet Union provided Angola with about $1.5 billion in military aid last year, US officials say.)

Those who oppose aid to UNITA argue that US assistance should end, especially as Cuban troops leave. Supporters say US aid is now an even more important lever in getting the Angolan government to negotiate an end to the civil war and accept free elections.

The administration's view, a senior official says, is that ``it is not a question of whether there will be national reconciliation in Angola, but when and how'' as the pressure on both parties mounts.

The speed of Cuba's front-loaded withdrawal, he explains, creates battlefield pressure on the government, while foreign backers of both sides are saying ``enough is enough.'' UNITA, he says, has continued to adapt its public posture to challenge the government to negotiate. In mid-March, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi offered to exclude himself from peace negotiations and to stay out of a transitional government as the country prepares for elections. The government rejected the offer.

``Put all together, there is a fairly formidable set of forces pushing the two sides together,'' the senior official says. But, he adds, this will take a while: ``We've stripped away the soft outer shell, but the hard core of the nut remains to be cracked.''

Opponents of US aid to UNITA are rallying their forces around recent charges that Mr. Savimbi has had rival members of his group executed and condoned at least one incident of witch-burning in 1983. Those reports were aired on a recent US public television program and a British TV report. UNITA has rebutted the charges.

Critics also cite a report by a human rights group, Africa Watch, which criticizes UNITA and the Angolan government for a range of abuses, including using land mines specifically against civilian targets. Africa Watch called for a cutoff of US aid to UNITA ``since the record shows that it practices gross abuses of human rights.''

Chairman of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa Howard Wolpe (D) of Michigan last week criticized the administration on human rights. He charged that there has been no open discussion of US policy toward Angola and almost no scrutiny of claims that UNITA's democratic ideals justify US aid. Mr. Wolpe, a critic of US Angola policy, said he was very disturbed that the State Department has apparently not investigated the allegations against UNITA seriously.

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa Gibson Lanpher told Wolpe the administration has not hesitated to raise human rights charges with UNITA, including alleged abuses with land mines. He said Savimbi has taken steps to correct any misuse of mines and earlier stopped the practice of taking foreign workers prisoner, after the US raised that subject with him.

Mr. Lanpher said the administration doesn't believe UNITA's ``intention is to deliberately injure civilians'' with its mines, and that the US has no evidence to substantiate the witch-burning charges.

The ranking Republican on the Africa subcommittee, Dan Burton of Indiana, says the allegations are part of a disinformation campaign fueled by the Angolan government and aimed at avoiding negotiations to end the civil war.

Mr. Burton says he personally met recently inside Angola with one of the UNITA officials that had allegedly been tortured. He says UNITA invited Africa Watch to visit its territory and investigate, but the group refused. Burton adds that the Angolan government refused Africa Watch any access to its territory and by all accounts has a terrible human rights record.

State Department official Lanpher said in his testimony that ``the real question is, how do we achieve peace in Angola, how do we get talks going?'' ``These human rights charges are serious,'' adds the senior official cited above. ``They are a useful reminder that civil wars are nasty; both sides do bad things.''

At present, US officials say, the Angolan government is divided on whether to negotiate with UNITA. There is evidence that some who favor talks have been transferred or demoted. But, they say, the Cubans and Soviets are urging the government to talk.

Many in Luanda are frightened at the prospect of sharing power with an enemy they have fought since 1975, and which is led by a charismatic, and at times ruthless leader, another US official says. It will be difficult, he says, to integrate a ``political giant like Savimbi'' into a capital of rivals who don't match his stature.

Prof. John Marcum, a specialist on Angola from the University of California at Santa Cruz, suggests that US-Soviet cooperation could now help foster a negotiated solution. He suggests that Washington and Moscow could mutually reduce military supplies to each side and offer incentives for a united Angola.

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