PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — THE signing of an Angolan cease-fire in Lisbon today symbolizes the end of an era of superpower conflict on the African continent and raises hopes for stability and development in southern Africa. The accord will contribute to the momentum toward democracy in Africa and to the ongoing transformation of Marxist states into free-market economies.
``The symbolism of the Angolan accord coming right after the collapse of the Marxist regime in Ethiopia underlines the current trend in Africa,'' says a Western diplomat. ``After South Africa, Angola has the greatest potential to become an economic engine in a regional power bloc which could provide the base for development and growth in sub-Saharan Africa.''
The cease-fire marks the end of 16 years of civil war between rebels of Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) - backed by the United States and South Africa - and the Soviet-backed forces of President Jos'e Eduardo dos Santos and his Popular Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA), boosted by 50,000 Cuban troops at the war's height.
The last Cuban soldiers left Luanda, Angola's capital, on May 25, five weeks ahead of schedule in the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year United Nations-monitored withdrawal.
The civil war was preceded by a 15-year conflict in which both UNITA and the MPLA fought the Portuguese in a bloody war for independence. The MPLA seized power in 1975, and Mr. Savimbi went into the bush vowing to continue the fight against the new Marxist regime.
The war reached a stalemate in the southern Angolan town of Cuito Cuanavale in 1989, with both sides claiming victory.
``We believe we are reaching the end of a long struggle for democracy and freedom,'' Savimbi said in Pretoria May 27. ``The cease-fire is holding, and we are confident that it is going to hold.''
Savimbi said the settlement had been made possible by five coinciding factors: the democratic revolution in Eastern Europe, US-Soviet cooperation, political reforms in South Africa, the independence of Namibia, and the withdrawal of Cuban troops.
British role vital
The British government, which has maintained diplomatic relations with Luanda, played a low-key but vital role in both the present accord and the one leading to Namibian independence in March last year.
Under the terms of the May 1 peace accords - which are to be ratified in Lisbon today - the first multiparty elections will be held by November next year - probably in September.
Rebel and government troops will be integrated into a slimmed-down national army, and joint UNITA-MPLA commissions will monitor the cease-fire under the supervision of an expanded UN body, the UN Angola Verification Mission, set up in 1988 to verify the withdrawal of Cuban troops.
Savimbi says the most difficult part will be demobilizing and disarming about 200,000 soldiers from both sides who will not be in the 40,000-strong national army.
Return to civilian life
``We are seeking international support to help bring those in the army back into civilian life,'' he told The Monitor.
Both the US and Soviet governments, which backed a year of painstaking mediation by the Portuguese government, say they halted military aid to the warring parties on May 1.
UNITA halted a relentless assault on the city of Luena in Moxico Province May 15 following a pledge to end hostilities on that day.
``We are delighted that the cease-fire is holding,'' says a US diplomat close to the talks. ``It appears that we have a solid agreement this time.''
Earlier this month, US diplomats traveled to Luanda to acquire property for a US observer mission until full diplomatic relations are established following democratic elections in 15 months.
Despite a decade of shuttle diplomacy by US administration officials, the US has never recognized the MPLA government. But the dominance of US oil companies like Chevron in extracting Angola's rich oil deposits has ensured a close link between the two countries.
The formal cease-fire followed four years of diplomacy that began with negotiations for the independence of Namibia. Agreements reached during this process laid the groundwork for an end to Angola's civil war by securing a withdrawal of South African troops from Angola, the closure of African National Congress bases in Angola, and a pledge from Pretoria to cut military aid to Savimbi's UNITA rebels.
President Dos Santos insists that South African logistical aid to UNITA has continued in defiance of the 1988 accord. But Western diplomats say that the cooperation of Pretoria over the past three years has been an essential element in reaching a settlement in Angola.
1989 cease-fire collapse
A cease-fire agreement reached in June 1989 with the mediation of Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko collapsed after several weeks with both sides claiming they had been deceived.
The cease-fire ceremony today, attended by US Secretary of State James Baker III and UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, marks the most dramatic achievement of US-Soviet cooperation in solving regional conflicts.
``We are extremely confident that this will be the end of the war,'' said Savimbi. ``Then we will start to rebuild a country destroyed by 30 years of civil war. We will need the support of foreign countries, but we want Angolans to play the most important part in the reconstruction.''
Savimbi said this could best be achieved through small- and medium-sized enterprises in a climate of free enterprise in which there were protections and incentives for foreign investors.
At a special congress at its southern Angolan headquarters in March, UNITA began a transformation from one of Africa's most formidable guerrilla armies into a political party that could become the first elected government in a free Angola.