AN international effort has been launched to calm rising tensions between the major adversaries in Angola following the apparent defeat of anti-government rebels in the country's first-ever democratic ballot.
Jonas Savimbi, leader of the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, has alleged widespread election fraud and threatened Saturday to take up arms again if UNITA was deemed the loser. At press time, candidates of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) led UNITA by 54 to 36 percent, with 60 percent of the vote counted.
But the United States, which formerly backed UNITA in its war against Soviet- and Cuban-backed government forces, has challenged Mr. Savimbi to prove that fraud had been committed and urged the party to lodge its complaints with the National Electoral Commission.
And Margaret Anstee, head of the United Nations Angolan Verification Mission, which is monitoring the election and will determine whether the ballot was "free and fair," reaffirmed confidence in the electoral system.
"Savimbi's first step should be to take his evidence of fraud to the UN and to the international community to prove it," Jeffrey Davidow, US deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said on BBC radio Saturday. "The political situation is obviously tense and shows the long strain of conflict and campaigning."
The two-day ballot last week gave Angolans their first opportunity to choose a president and parliament since independence from Portugal in 1975. A May 1991 accord between UNITA and the MPLA ended 17 years of civil war and paved the way for the election.
The MPLA government went some way toward defusing Savimbi's anger yesterday when it agreed to an independent probe of the allegations of ballot fraud.
Following the conciliatory move by the government, a UNITA spokesman played down Savimbi's threat, implying that it should be seen as part of the post-ballot bargaining process.
But Western diplomats in Luanda, the capital, were taking Savimbi's threats seriously. Prior to the ballot, the UNITA leader vowed to abide by the election if it was certified "free and fair" by the UN. In a statement broadcast by the UNITA radio station yesterday, however, Savimbi's pledge seemed more ambiguous.
"There is no international organization which can say whether the elections were free and fair," Savimbi said. "Only the Angolan people can do that."
Uncertified results showed that President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and the MPLA have won the presidential ballot and have taken the majority of seats in the 223-member parliament. The final result of the ballot is expected to be announced later this week.
A third party, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) appeared to have won about 4 percent of the vote. A host of smaller parties drew about 3 percent of the vote.
Fears of renewed hostilities after the ballot have been fueled by delays in demobilizing the MPLA and UNITA armies. Although the two forces were disbanded two days before the ballot, only half of an estimated 120,000 troops were considered demobilized by the time of the election.
Before the vote, both Mr. dos Santos and Savimbi had indicated they would include the defeated party in a government of national reconciliation after the ballot to ensure that peace holds.
Western diplomats had hoped for an election result that would force the parties to explore a coalition or pact. They worried that an outright win for either side could lead to renewed hostilities.
About 800 international observers have praised Angolans for the way they have conducted the poll in relative peace and an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.
South Africa, which backed Savimbi during the war, vowed not to side with the rebel leader if he lost the election. President Frederik de Klerk congratulated Angola on a peaceful ballot.
About 40 people were killed in political violence in the six-week run-up to the poll.