ONE of Angola's elder statesmen has appealed to the new Clinton administration to recognize the Angolan government and complete a reversal of longstanding US support for Jonas Savimbi's rebel movement.
United Nations officials in Angola say US recognition of the government could have a major impact on the renewed, escalating civil war and put more pressure on Mr. Savimbi to return to talks.
But US officials here believe their leverage over the rebels is minimal and that diplomatic recognition of the Angolan government would not necessarily affect the conflict.
The appeal was made by Paul Texeira Jorge, governor of Benguela Province and an influential member of the central committee of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
"We are hoping that the position of the Democratic administration will be quite different to that of the Republican administration," says Mr. Jorge, a foreign minister from 1976-1984.
The US has major financial interests in offshore oil drilling operations in the Angolan enclave of Cabinda. UN officials say the United States has a moral obligation to recognize the elected government in Luanda. Return to war
The renewed fighting, which follows 16 years of civil war that ended with the 1991 Bicesse peace accord, has claimed thousands of lives. According to Western diplomats, the battle has been more intense than at any time during the civil war and damage more widespread, marked by political killings on both sides.
A visit to the Benguela cemetery revealed mass graves from a bitter conflict last week when Savimbi's UNITA movement - the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola - was driven out of the town and its headquarters destroyed.
The US, which maintains a liaison office in the Angolan capital, has refused to establish full diplomatic relations with Angola since the MPLA seized power in 1975. The Bush administration indicated it would establish formal relations with Angola once the election process was completed.
But the Bush administration delayed a final decision on diplomatic relations pending the outcome of a second presidential ballot, required by the 1991 peace accords since no candidate won a simple majority of votes.
The MPLA won decisively in the Sept. 29-30, 1992, parliamentary ballot. President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who beat Savimbi, received just less than 50 percent of the vote in a contest to become Angola's first democratically elected leader.
The virtual collapse of the peace process in Angola since the ballot and the return to an undeclared civil war has dashed prospects for a second presidential ballot.
There is intense interest in political circles in the Angolan capital as to what moves the Clinton administration will make. During his recent confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said that one of the criteria for diplomatic recognition was that a government should be in control of its territory.
"Maybe in the next few days - or in the next months - this problem will be discussed because we cannot understand the refusal of the US since 1975 to recognize Angola," Jorge said. "When a state wants to establish diplomatic relations with another state, it should not be based on preconditions." Cold-war legacy
UN special envoy Margaret Anstee said Tuesday that the involvement of the former Soviet Union and the US, in backing the opposing sides in Angola, had made the resolution of the conflict more difficult.
"Even though things have gone badly since the election, I hope that the international community will not wash their hands of Angola," she said.
Jorge said that the only solution to a long and costly war was international pressure on UNITA to accept the election result. He said the US and South Africa were the only countries that could apply effective leverage on the rebels, since they supported UNITA during the civil war.
Jorge repeated MPLA claims that UNITA is receiving military supplies from flights out of South Africa, from Zairean soldiers, and from unidentified white mercenaries. South African officials have denied the claims, but Jorge insists that the Angolan government has evidence of the flights to the UNITA bush headquarters of Jamba in the southeastern corner of Angola.
"UNITA is destroying the country because of the ambitions of one man [Savimbi] to be president," he said. "I am confident that pressure on UNITA from the international community - particularly the US and South Africa - will convince UNITA that it is time to talk and stop waging war."