PRESIDENT Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi are scheduled to meet today to discuss ways of calming tensions and cooperating politically in the aftermath of Angola's first-ever democratic poll.
The meeting, which was engineered by South African Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha during a week of shuttle diplomacy between the rival parties in Angola, could help end several weeks of post-ballot violence that has jeopardized a cease-fire signed in May 1991 after 16 years of civil war.
Western diplomats have praised Mr. Botha's intervention.
"It is appropriate that the Pretoria government deliver the former rebel leader and persuade him to abide by the letter and spirit of the peace accord," a Western diplomat says.
Botha said today's expected meeting, which follows the announcement Saturday of the final poll results, would be vital.
In the Sept. 29-30 poll, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won the parliamentary contest with 53.74 percent of the vote compared to 34.1 percent for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
But the MPLA's Dos Santos, a Marxist-turned-reformer, won only 49.57 percent of the vote in the presidential ballot. Savimbi, an anti-communist who was backed by the United States and South Africa during the war years, received 40.07 percent.
Dos Santos needed 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off, which must take place by mid-November unless the parties come to an alternative agreement.
South African diplomats close to today's talks said the two leaders would discuss their terms for a second presidential ballot but could also discuss the formation of a government of national unity, based on the ratios in the legislative ballot, that could avert a run-off for the presidency.
"I think there is the basis of a deal," a Western diplomat says. "Dos Santos must bargain because he is under pressure to hold a second ballot and Savimbi, too, must bargain because he will probably lose the run-off," the diplomat says.
"The close presidential vote could turn out to be the mechanism needed to force a post-ballot coalition."
DOS Santos on Saturday set several conditions for the holding of a second ballot. These required UNITA to commit itself to a peaceful process, to return its soldiers to the new united army, and to agree to monitoring of its bases.
The 1991 peace accord called for the demobilization of the MPLA and UNITA armies and the creation of a new national army comprising a balance of troops from each side. Savimbi withdrew the UNITA contingent from the new army a week after the ballot.
Savimbi accepted on Thursday the holding of a second ballot for the presidency but repeated accusations that the ballot had been rigged. The 800 international observers in Angola, however, have declared the ballot was free and fair.
"There was no evidence of major systematic or widespread fraud, or that the irregularities were of a magnitude to have a significant effect on the results," says Margaret Anstee, who heads the United Nations team monitoring the electoral and peace processes in Angola.
Western diplomats believe that Dos Santos would probably emerge as the overall victor in a second ballot with the support of the third party in the election, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola. The FNLA's Holden Roberto won about 2 percent of the vote in the presidential ballot.
Both the US and South Africa have vowed not to resume military aid to UNITA and are urging Savimbi to negotiate for a position in a government of national unity.
Foreign Minister Botha, who returned to South Africa on Saturday to brief President Frederik de Klerk on Angolan developments, said he had received personal assurances from both President dos Santos and Mr. Savimbi that they would never again resort to war to settle their political differences.