Angolan President Urges US Role To Help End Renewed Civil War
In an exclusive interview, President dos Santos appeals to the Clinton administration for diplomatic recognition, as the UN considers withdrawing monitors
LUANDA, ANGOLA — ANGOLAN President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has appealed to the United States to recognize his beleaguered government and to the United Nations to declare the country's rebel movement a "terrorist organization."
The dramatic appeal was made in an interview with the Monitor - the first interview Mr. dos Santos has granted since Angola's first democratic poll last September.
Since the elections, Angola has descended into an undeclared war that Western diplomats here say is more intense than at any time during the 16-year civil war that ended in May 1991.
The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won a decisive parliamentary majority in the vote, and Dos Santos barely missed the 50 percent needed to win the presidency. A runoff was to be scheduled, but Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), called the vote fraudulent and renewed the fighting.
"I feel that the international community should act toward Angola with a sense of justice," Dos Santos told the Monitor at the seaside presidential complex in Luanda, the capital.
The appeal came Friday, on the same day UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recommended that the UN Security Council scale back the UN monitoring mission in Angola (UNAVEM II) from 700 to 64 personnel and withdraw completely by the end April if renewed peace talks were not under way by then.
Dos Santos said that his government's forces were thinly spread and indicated that he needed the help of the international community.
"We have two options: either to get rid of the radical wing of UNITA by military means or [to do so] through diplomatic pressure on that wing ... to abandon the military option.
"This pressure should be exerted both internally and internationally.... The US has got a great responsibility in pacifying Angola," he said.
The US has backed UNITA with either overt or covert military aid since 1975, when Angola gained independence from Portugal. The Bush administration ended support at the start of the electoral process last year. After the vote, the US made diplomatic recognition of the MPLA conditional on the holding of the presidential runoff ballot.
In his confirmation hearings, newly appointed Secretary of State Warren Christopher specified another criterion for recognition: A government should be in control of all its territory.
"To maintain a position which does not recognize Angola means to favor UNITA," Dos Santos said.
"There hasn't been a second round of the ballot yet because Savimbi decided to go back to war," he added. "There is no control over the whole territory because Savimbi managed to occupy some of the territory by violating the Bicesse accords," the May 1991 peace agreement.
Diplomatic recognition for the Luanda government would signal a resounding setback for Savimbi and his rebels and would hasten their international isolation.
Hours before the interview, Dos Santos handed a letter addressed to President Clinton to Edmund de Jarnette, director of the US Liaison Office here, in which he appealed for a normalization of ties. Dos Santos wrote that the silence of the Bush administration over recognition had encouraged Savimbi to pursue a military solution. He asked Mr. Clinton for a meeting before the end of the year.
The European Parliament in Brussels called for an immediate cease-fire in the Angolan conflict Friday and urged the government to hold a second ballot with UN and other international observers.
UN officials in Luanda have confirmed diplomatic efforts to arrange a meeting between UNITA and government military officials in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by Wednesday, but UNITA's final confirmation is still awaited.
In the past two weeks, Savimbi has threatened Western oil interests and taken hostage 17 foreign personnel in the northwestern oil-producing town of Soyo. UNITA now controls the strategic town and has attacked oil terminals on the outskirts.
"This is terrorism in anyone's book," an angry Western diplomat says.
Dos Santos also cited the bombing of public buildings in Luanda and the killing of intellectuals in the central rebel stronghold of Huambo as examples of other terrorist acts.
"Terrorism is condemned by the international community and by the UN. It's a crime against humanity. Why don't they declare the radical military wing [led by Savimbi] as a terrorist organization?" he asked.
Dos Santos hinted in the interview that if Savimbi's "radical wing of UNITA" were declared a terrorist movement the rebel leader could be disqualified by Angolan law from running in a second ballot.
He said it was clear that UNITA was still receiving support from South Africa, but that this could be happening without the knowledge of President Frederik de Klerk and his government.
The rebels are now poised to launch attacks on the on-shore complex of the off-shore oil wells in Cabinda, the oil-rich Angolan enclave that produces two-thirds of the country's oil.
Chevron, which runs the oil production in Cabinda through Cabinda Gulf Oil, began evacuating US staff last week in case of a rebel attack. The US State Department warned Savimbi Friday not to attack US oil interests.
The UN Security Council must meet before the end of the month to decide the future of UNAVEM's mandate, which expires at the end of this month. UN Special Envoy Margaret Anstee, who left the country for two weeks Friday, said in an interview last week that the UN had been "driven out" of at least 41 of its 67 outstations.
A Western diplomat said that UNITA was systematically attacking UN outstations and giving UN personnel the option of quitting or being killed. He said at least $7 million worth of UN vehicles and radio equipment were now in UNITA hands.
"For all we know they could be using UN vehicles to transport military equipment and using UN radios in their bid to topple the government," the diplomat said.
Dos Santos said that Savimbi would never compromise on his own free will: "Savimbi is not going to abide by any understanding, because what counts for Savimbi is only his objective to become the president of Angola."