Portugal offers military aid to former African colonies

Eight years after Portugal got rid of its colonial empire, Portuguese troops are once again poring over military maps of Lisbon's former overseas territories and preparing to get involved in guerrilla wars in Africa.

Carrying much of the white man's military burden in Africa seems to be the price that Portugal may have to pay for regaining political influence in its former African colonies.

Any move to lessen the dependence of countries like Mozambique and Angola on their Soviet bloc allies is seen in Lisbon as a gain for Portugal and its NATO partners.

But that only partly explains the enthusiasm with which the Portuguese military has promised to help the regime of Mozambique President Samora Machel to fight South African-backed rebels of the Mozambique National Resistance (MNR) , which poses a growing threat to the African government.

Portugal is to become Mozambique's second biggest military supplier after the Soviet Union under an agreement worked out during a recent eight-day visit to Lisbon by Lt. Gen. Alberto Chipande, the Mozambican defense minister.

A formal defense treaty Mozambique hopes to sign next year will turn Lisbon's former East African colony into the single biggest client of Portugal's budding military industry, but arms exports are not its most important aspect.

In January, 50 Mozambican officers will arrive in Lisbon to start training with the Portuguese Special Forces. The Mozambican armed forces still have in their ranks guerrillas who fought against the Portuguese Army, but what they lack is experience in counterinsurgency warfare.

As for the future, General Chipande said during his visit that Portuguese instructors may go to Mozambique for on-the-spot training as soon as the Lisbon authorities sorted out the problems involved.

Lisbon's right-wing government has not forgotten that the armed forces overthrew Portugal's former dictatorship in April 1974 to extricate the country from African guerrilla wars it could not win.

Defense Minister Diogo Freitas do Amaral can guess what the political impact would be of soldiers returning in coffins from a colony Lisbon gave up to stop any more Portuguese youngsters getting hurt.

Perhaps that is why he is so insistent that Portuguese troops will not be going to Mozambique, a country where Portuguese civilians have already become a favorite target of guerrilla attacks.

But the generals, having long been reviled as wagers of an evil colonial war with a fair share of massacres, would like to see Portuguese troops invited back on the side of the angels.

Such a trip would also help to bear out a theory to which the generals have long been trying to convert their skeptical NATO colleagues: Portugal's military experience in African counterinsurgency is unmatched and the alliance should take advantage of this.

New military ventures in Africa would also fulfill an even deeper need. Portuguese officers like Gen. Antonio Ramalho Eanes, the country's soldier-president, are longing for a chance to sort out the tangled mess left behind when the colonial empire was broken up.

Angola has not tasted peace since independence and it is probably true that more people have died in the Angolan civil war than in all the 13 years that Portugal fought to keep its richest and biggest colony Portuguese.

Also, the Portuguese Army is haunted by the specter of Indonesian-annexed East Timor, a country which not only lost half its population after Lisbon's troops withdrew, but which never obtained its independence.

This, more than any other factor, explains the Portuguese anxiety to mediate in the African conflict.

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