Angolan Rebels' Threat to Bolt Puts Democratic Vote in Jeopardy

US, S. Africa urge Savimbi to respect vote as violence rocks capital

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

DIPLOMATIC efforts intensified over the weekend to keep rebels from abandoning the democratic process following the victory of the ruling party of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Angola's first democratic elections.

"We may be looking at sustained international intervention to keep the fragile process on track," a Western diplomat says.

Bomb blasts and machine-gun and mortar fire rocked the capital Sunday as the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rejected the election result and threatened to return to war. Five people were reported dead and an unknown number injured.

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A tense calm had returned to the capital yesterday as soldiers and police set up roadblocks. A United Nations Security Council team, which arrived in Luanda a few hours before the violence erupted Sunday, met with rebel leader Jonas Savimbi yesterday. Electoral officials delayed announcing the final ballot result while UN teams investigate rebel claims of election fraud.

South African Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha also arrived in Luanda yesterday to see Mr. Savimbi.

"Angola is poised between a tense peace and renewed civil war," a Western diplomat in Luanda says. "It appears that rebel leader Jonas Savimbi is incapable of accepting the fact that he and his party have lost the ballot."

The election was the culmination of a peace accord signed in May 1991 between the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), formerly backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, and the UNITA rebels, who were backed by the United States and South Africa. The two sides had been at war for 17 years following independence from Portugal in 1975.

(The US halted aid to UNITA in March this year under terms of the accord. South Africa ended military aid in 1989 but has maintained close ties with Savimbi.)

Diplomats say the collapse of the 15-month peace process in Angola would have a negative effect on the precarious peace accord in Mozambique. The government and rebels signed a peace agreement on Oct. 5, ending 16 years of civil war and calling for the country's first democratic elections next year.

In political negotiations between UNITA and the ruling MPLA that followed the shootings, rebel soldiers returned 12 policemen in exchange for the release of 35 UNITA supporters arrested in the run-up to last month's ballot.

Since the unofficial results were known last week, the US has launched an all-out effort to prevent the rebel leader from returning to war.

Elias Salepto Pena, a senior UNITA official, said yesterday that unless the election results were annulled there would be "immediate war" in Angola.

"The situation is so grave that we cannot imagine the publication of such fraudulent results because this will mean immediate war," Mr. Pena said in an interview with Portuguese radio.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Herman Cohen made a radio appeal to Savimbi over Radio Portugal Thursday, urging the rebel leader to stop making inflammatory statements and to stop threatening to renege on agreements he signed with the MPLA.

"[South African Foreign Minister] Botha will try to persuade Savimbi to hold his horses until the claims of fraud have been fully probed," a South African Foreign Ministry official said yesterday.

"Our information is that there is substance to Savimbi's claims, and there is independent evidence from some French observers to back his claims. If these claims are proved there will have to be a rerun of the presidential ballot," the official said.

According to unofficial results, President dos Santos has won the presidential poll by 51 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Savimbi. The winning candidate needed 50 percent of the vote to prevent a second ballot. In the legislative poll, the MPLA won a decisive majority of seats.

Diplomats worried that if Dos Santos's narrow victory in the presidential poll should fall below 50 percent after fraud investigations, a run-off at the end of the month could break the momen-tum of the fragile peace process and lead to renewed civil war.

Although neither the US nor South Africa would fund a return to the bush by UNITA, diplomats say that the rebels could last indefinitely by returning to their former bases in the south and north of the country and seeking logistical aid from President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and sympathetic elements in South Africa.

"The main problem is what to do with Savimbi," says a diplomat close to the United Nations Verification and Monitoring Mission, which is responsible for monitoring the electoral and peace processes and verifying the results.

"He is too astute to accept any role in an MPLA government which does not have clout," the diplomat says. "But if he takes a position with clout he would be a threat to the MPLA government."

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