For Angola rebels, business is booming

IF a cease-fire is in effect in this war-ravaged country, it is news to Capt. Trinita Lucas. Captain Lucas runs the General Office of Uniforms. Hunched over pedal-driven sewing machines, his workers churn out 800 uniforms a day for soldiers of the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Far from slowing down, they are upping their output of the snappy-looking fatigues to 1,000 a day.

``We make, we make, we make,'' says Lucas, a snazzy dresser, sporting a swagger stick with a fake marble handle. ``We cannot stop making because our troops need more uniforms.'' Adds another officer, ``This cease-fire is not our problem.''

Apparently not. For as Angola, Cuba, and South Africa meet this week to discuss an end to the 13-year-old conflict, it is business as usual for the UNITA guerrillas. They have been excluded from the flurry of negotiations that resulted in the cease-fire agreement, signed by the three countries on Monday. And today's United States-mediated talks in Brazzaville, Congo, on setting a timetable for Cuba to pull its troops out of Angola, do not include them either.

So the war effort continues full tilt here in this provisional capital carved out of the bush. And UNITA's somewhat startling infrastructure grinds on: workshops mend captured weapons; factories turn out furniture; schools produce multilingual scholars; a studio cuts revolutionary records, played on a rebel radio station.

All of which underscores UNITA's determination to keep on fighting until the Marxist government in Luanda agrees to talk. Despite a possible cutoff of US and South African aid, UNITA has enough guns, soldiers, and materiel to wreck a peace accord. Thus, the guerrilla group figures time is on its side: Eventually it must be included in some sort of power-sharing agreement.

As Vice-President Jeremias Chitunda sees it, ``A deal without UNITA is no deal at all.''

That deal is a long time coming for the guerrillas and their president, Jonas Savimbi, an imposing figure with a penchant for walking sticks. UNITA was one of three movements that battled Portugal for independence during the 1960s and '70s; all three formed an interim government when the Portuguese pulled out in 1975.

But in 1976, Mr. Savimbi and his followers were driven from Luanda by one faction, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which was backed by Cuban troops. Their retreat ended in 1979 at this desolate, sand-choked spot that the Portuguese called ``lands at the end of the earth.'' (UNITA named it Jamba - elephant - for its wandering pachyderms.)

From here, Savimbi directs his guerrilla war with the help of South African air strikes and logistical support, and US-supplied antiaircraft and antitank weapons. Although not powerful enough to defeat Luanda, his 65,000 troops control one-third of Angola and have infiltrated most provinces.

And it is here that Savimbi has built a new government - replete with ministries of education, health, information, natural resources, and such - to rule the 3 million people in his territory. Its thatched-roof huts give Jamba the look of a down-scale safari lodge. But its business is deadly serious.

Take the Ministry of Information: Its shortwave radio station, the Voice of the Resistance of the Black Cockerel (UNITA's symbol), broadcasts 16 hours a day in 10 African dialects, Portuguese, French, and English. It has a news agency that sends dispatches in three languages. And its air-conditioned video center boasts Sony televisions for editing homemade movies.

``Our presence in our country makes us a factor that even if they [the MPLA] wanted to deny, they couldn't,'' declares Jaka Jamba, information minister. ``They wanted to expel us, but we will be here forever.''

That determination is echoed over at Jamba High School. UNITA runs 976 primary and eight secondary schools in the bush. It also pays for 300 students to study at universities abroad.

Paula Cidonho, a 16-year-old who wants to be a doctor, has pretty definite ideas about regional politics. ``UNITA is key to peace in southern Africa,'' she says in over-enunciated English. ``Without UNITA in the negotiations, peace will take a long time.''

And at the Ministry of Natural Resources, they are looking to fund the war for a long time. Besides outside support, revenues come from exports of diamonds, timber, ivory, and animal skins. (Officials refuse to disclose how much they earn from total exports, but diamonds are the biggest money earners.)

Maj. Waldimar Dias is in charge of mineralogy. UNITA sent him to Antwerp, Belgium, for four years to study gems. He does not see the need for diminishing the money intake: His department is gearing up to increase diamond production by 30 percent this year.

``For the moment, we're only prospecting,'' says Major Dias, eyeing about 2,000 carats of unpolished diamonds on his desk. ``That's for the moment.''

Of course, some activities might have to be scaled back if the US and South Africa cut off aid as part of a peace accord. Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker has said the US will not stop supporting UNITA until the Soviets and Cubans cease aiding Luanda. To play it safe, Savimbi says he has lined up Arab nations that would be willing to fill the gap.

And he is not waiting around to be invited into the peace process, either. Last week, Savimbi jetted off to various African capitals to rally support for separate talks between UNITA and the Angolan government.

All this talk of peace is lost on Lt. Col. Paulo Gato, however. Mornings, this rebel soldier stands on the parade ground, watching a battalion of veteran combatants go through their paces. His aides bark out seemingly unintelligible orders, the troops turn smartly on their heels - and everyone disappears behind clouds of dust.

``Peace?'' snorts Lieutenant Gato, a lanky version of the legendary Latin guerrilla leader Ch'e Guevara. ``Nothing here has changed. Nothing.''

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