Angola rebels take guerrilla war to regime's oil lifeline

The war in Angola appears to have widened in a way that could put significant new economic, military, and psychological pressure on the regime in Luanda. The UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebel movement has struck - reportedly for the first time - in the far northern oil-rich enclave of Cabinda, blowing up an oil pipeline. The Angolan government news agency has acknowledged the attack, which took place July 12. It said 10 people died in the attack, which UNITA said claimed 22 lives.

In the short term the attack appears to be a warning to those ''friendly'' with the Angolan government that the country is no longer safe for either foreign investment or foreign workers. UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi has been pressing this point of late, capturing foreigners in Angola and releasing them with stern warnings to foreign governments that contract workers in Angola are now vulnerable due to the war.

This time the message appears to be addressed to the Gulf Oil Corporation, an American firm that owns the damaged pipeline. Gulf's involvement in Angola is crucial to the economy, since oil exports account for some 75 percent of the country's revenues. And those earnings in turn are crucial to Luanda's defense against UNITA. John Marcum, an analyst of Angolan affairs at the University of California at Santa Cruz, has estimated that 60 percent of the country's income goes to the government's war effort.

The long-term significance of the pipeline attack is more difficult to predict. By itself it suggests a military gain for UNITA. Cabina is far from UNITA's stronghold in the southeastern corner of the country. Cabinda is also well guarded by Cuban troops.

But UNITA traditionally uses a hit-and-run form of attack that makes it difficult to assess its strength in any new area of activity.

The UNITA statement said the attack was a warning that the rebels intended to intensify the conflict in northern Angola.

UNITA is pressing for negotiations with the Marxist government of Angola that would lead to UNITA's inclusion in a ''government of national unity.'' UNITA said in its statement that companies operating in Angola should exert their influence to bring Jose Eduardo dos Santos's government to the negotiating table.

The war in Angola is serious enough for the government to have to rely on an estimated 25,000 Cuban troops - at considerable expense - for security.

For its part, UNITA is strengthened by support from South Africa. Some diplomatic sources say this connection makes it doubly difficult for the Angola government to talk to UNITA.

On the diplomatic front, the United States has withheld diplomatic recognition of Angola because of the Cubans. Both the US and South Africa have said Namibia (South-West Africa) - the territory ''illegally'' controlled by South Africa - would become independent only once Angola has agreed to the withdrawal of Cuban troops.

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