Zaire Summit Could Mark Break in Angola Stalemate

TODAY could mark a breakthrough toward solving Angola's 14-year civil war. Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko has reportedly invited 21 African heads of state to a special summit today. The aim is to foster reconciliation between Angola's Marxist government and the US-supported rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

If all goes well, more than a dozen African leaders gathered in Zaire will bless the beginning of peace talks, US diplomats say. Working-level delegations from UNITA and Angola's government were to arrive early in an attempt to find common ground for a negotiation process, with help from Zaire. Optimism over this African initiative is tempered by the realization that apparent progress could ``melt down'' quickly, a US specialist says.

``As nearly as we can tell, things in Angola have moved very rapidly,'' a Bush administration official says. The progressive departure of Cuban troops under last year's US-mediated regional peace accord is apparently focusing Angola's leadership on the need for some sort of accommodation with UNITA.

``The government is going fishing,'' a US Africa-watcher says. ``They don't want to end up high and dry with the Soviets and Cubans gone and isolated in a few strongholds, like the Najibullah regime in Afghanistan.''

Regional leaders see an opportunity to end a conflict that still spills out of Angola and endangers Namibia's independence process. Zaire's President would like to ease the war's pressures on him and make a big splash for his Washington visit next week.

Angola's ruling Leninist-style party has reportedly authorized talks with UNITA. But Angola's foreign minister this week said there would be no direct negotiations.

US support for UNITA seems strong. The administration is committed to diplomatic and covert military aid until reconciliation occurs. Bi-partisan congressional support also appears solid.

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