RECENT shocking events in Angola, once a hot arena of cold-war confrontation, portend a return to civil war. Since the Bicesse Accords were signed in Lisbon in April 1991 a cease-fire has been in effect, and elections were held on Sept. 29 and 30. The primary challengers in Angola's historic first election were a "former" Leninist regime known as the MPLA party (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which rules Angola, and a former Western-backed resistance movement, UNITA (National Union for t he Total Independence of Angola).
The election results subsequently were disputed by a host of opposition parties. With a run-off required between the presidents of UNITA and the MPLA, the MPLA government invited key UNITA leaders to Luanda under a white flag to negotiate a meeting between President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and UNITA's Jonas Savimbi. Two hours after discussions ended on Oct. 31, the MPLA launched an attack, using tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopter gunships against UNITA's lightly defended civilian installat ions in the capital.
UNITA's vice president, Jerry Chitunda, was executed with a bullet fired at close range, as was key negotiator Salupeta Pena; Mr. Savimbi's foreign minister suffered a leg wound and is in the MPLA's military hospital. Savimbi's nephew and top guerrilla commander, General Ben-Ben, is also reported dead.
The MPLA is arming its militants, and the word on the street is that any known or suspected UNITA sympathizer is fair game. The MPLA's riot police are ransacking houses in the UNITA-leaning musseques, or slums, shooting anyone possessing Savimbi campaign paraphernalia.
Other unarmed opposition parties, whose only provocation was to decry electoral fraud, have been imprisoned, tortured, or are under house arrest. The MPLA is ruthlessly and efficiently reimposing its one-party state. The "reform communists" in the MPLA have reverted to totalitarian tactics, expecting the United States to react feebly, if at all.
Less than a month ago, international observers, led by a small, 400-man United Nations monitoring force, observed the election. Tensions flared only days later, when 10 of 13 political parties fielding presidential candidates issued a joint declaration alleging electoral fraud, which they warned could be "a catalyst for destabilization of the whole democratic process." Among those challenging the ballot counting was Daniel Chipenda, formerly MPLA campaign manager, who ran as an independent. Reacting to f raud complaints and seeking to avert an impending political crisis, the UN Security Council dispatched an additional four officials to supplement the work of four subcommissions reviewing alleged electoral "irregularities."
Reports of stolen ballots, faceless voter identification cards, the hasty creation of more than 100 "mobile" polling booths, the circulation of surplus ballots, and a large percentage of "nullified" ballots deepened distrust of the MPLA-staffed electoral system. Invalidated ballots accounted for 25 percent of the total votes in some provinces. Under Angola's electoral law, these ballots were subject to review. No voter registry was ever given to opposition parties, nor was the opposition informed of how many votes were actually cast. The UN never conducted a recount and certified that the elections were "generally free and fair."
Yet in August the UN, along with the US, had objected to the premature termination of voter registration, which disenfranchised as many as 500,000 voters in rural areas, traditionally UNITA strongholds.
The US, as a guarantor of Angola's peace accords, should have worked to ensure a thorough fraud investigation. Instead, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Herman Cohen, testifying before Congress Oct. 8, said he told Savimbi to "stop saying the election was fraudulent." More recently, on a Nov. 2 Voice of America broadcast to Angola, Mr. Cohen largely faulted UNITA for the violence.
UNITA's only option could well be a return to armed conflict. The MPLA has murdered much of UNITA's Western-educated diplomatic and political leadership. UNITA survivors will be deeply suspicious of returning to negotiations with people they regard as treacherous assassins.
A return to civil war would be detrimental to US commercial enterprises in Angola. More important, a resumption of violence would be devastating to a country racked by 31 years of conflict.
Angola may be judged a casualty of Secretary of State James Baker III's "style over substance" foreign policy, which derogates strategic parts of the world to career state department officials. George Bush's strong suit was billed as foreign policy, yet under Mr. Bush the US ignored the belligerent behavior of other former Soviet allies, such as the elimination by Nicaragua's Sandinistas of more than 50 rebel leaders, including contra chief Enrique Bermudez.
If the US has demonstrated impotence in dealing with problems next door in Central America, does it have the capacity to tackle increasing destabilization in Africa, in Europe, in Asia? What does this lack of resolve and stamina in Angola, where the US pledged a commitment to democracy, signal to pro-Western parties in South Africa and Mozambique?
President Reagan won a peace agreement in Angola through arming UNITA, but that agreement has been sloughed off on the UN by the Bush administration. Bush's new world order yielded elections that were superficially monitored by the UN, with no punitive mechanisms for violations.
Angolan dictator Dos Santos was feted in Washington last year by prominent think tanks like the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was embraced by the Bush White House for his newly found commitment to democracy. The MPLA, which submitted to elections only under UNITA's relentless pressure, was given a patina of respectability and promised the diplomatic recognition it was denied in 1975 when it imported Cubans and Soviet advisors to expel its politica l opponents from the capital and induced civil war.
An appropriate response to the carnage in Angola may be among the first foreign-policy tests of the new Clinton administration.