Africa: Stay Engaged

Angola's brief taste of peace has quickly dissolved into renewed civil war. The announced departure of United Nations peacekeeping forces has bleak portents for both this battered country and its part of Africa.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan saw little choice but to withdraw following the recent downing of two UN-chartered planes in Angola. Who fired on the planes remains unclear, but neither the government in Luanda nor the rebels cooperated with the UN to find the crash sites.

Both sides appear to be telling the UN to exit, so they can get on with the fighting. The 1994 peace agreement that brought a respite from war is in tatters.

Even as the UN prepares to leave, however, the world body and all nations interested in African stability can't afford to write off Angola. It's a vast land, rich in oil and diamonds, and intertwined with strife-torn countries to its north and more stable, economically pivotal ones to the south. Diplomats must stay poised to reengage in Angola.

Blame can be liberally spread for Angola's renewed turmoil, but the lion's share goes to rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. He rejected the results of a UN-monitored election in 1992, opting for arms instead of ballots. His thwarting of UN-mandated disarmament after the '94 agreement set the stage for resumed war now. There are already UN sanctions against trade with the parts of Angola Mr. Savimbi controls. Still, the diamonds his forces mine get smuggled out, and arms flow in.

Meanwhile, on Angola's northern flank, Congo's civil war grinds on. The problems in Angola, Congo, and other parts of Africa represent a still rocky transition from colonialism and dictatorship. Ethnic strife and power grabs are unchecked by a commitment to representative government and the rule of law.

The world's stake in Angola is clear. Already, more than 1 million people have been driven from their homes by the renewed fighting. More land mines are being scattered in a country already thick with them. Secretary-General Annan has warned of a full-scale humanitarian disaster in Angola.

But a turnaround is not impossible. More stable government is taking hold in countries like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and once war-torn Mozambique. Even Nigeria, just emerging from a long night of military dictatorship, is showing signs of democratic renewal.

Every effort must be made to deprive Angola's flaring civil war of oxygen - through sanctions, arms embargoes, and unflinching diplomacy. The world's prayers for this, and other crises in Africa, are needed.

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