THE government of Angola has invited representatives from seven other African states to Luanda today. The subject: ending Angola's 14-year civil war between the government and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The Angolan government is trying to rally African support for its plan of ending the war by offering individual amnesty to UNITA members. The government refuses to negotiate directly with the rebels, who control much of southeast Angola.
UNITA, on the other hand, wants to negotiate. As a gesture of goodwill, it has offered a cease-fire through July; named a negotiating team that excludes its forceful leader, Jonas Savimbi; and offered to keep Mr. Savimbi out of any transitional government for two years until elections are held.
``The fact that the meeting is taking place legitimizes the concern and role of neighboring states,'' and ``shows how far consensus is developing on the need for talks,'' a senior US official says. The US supplies covert military assistance to UNITA and has been strongly pushing, through diplomatic channels, for a negotiated end to the fighting.
US diplomats expect the meeting will not publicly press the Angolan government to negotiate. But the diplomats are hopeful that private discussions might move the process along - and that some of those present may serve as mediators between the two Angolan parties.
US support for UNITA and national reconciliation seems strong. Charges by Angolan exiles that UNITA has violated human rights have had little effect on Washington's support for covert aid.
As one congressional critic of US support for UNITA says, Angola's government has to ``do something beyond amnesty,'' or they are ``really going to get clobbered by an increase in covert aid now'' with the possibility of more later on.
``I think the ... government has realized now that the Bush administration is committed to seeing the civil war through to the end,'' and that support for that policy is bipartisan, the senior official says.
Zambia, Zaire, Congo, Gabon, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Sao Tome and Principe were reportedly invited to today's gathering.