WHILE government and rebel negotiators from Angola meet in Ethiopia to discuss the renewed fighting in their country, the United Nations Security Council has been debating what role, if any, the UN should play in Angola's future.
The consensus among Council members is that a UN presence should remain in Angola but that the number of UN personnel there should be cut back for the time being. The reasons range from the ferocity of the fighting, to the growing irrelevancy of the UN mandate in Angola, to the UN's limited budget.
The UN mission in Angola, due to expire Jan. 31, currently stands at 240 UN personnel, less than half of the mission's authorized strength of 714. Most are lightly armed military or police observers. They were sent, on the agreement of both factions, to verify implementation of Angola's May 1991 peace accords.
Though UN personnel judged the September elections as generally fair and free, rebel leader Jonas Savimbi disputed the results and renewed fighting that has given him control of as much as 70 percent of the country. In the process, UN personnel, which had been posted in 67 field stations around Angola, have been forced to evacuate all but four or five of the posts. Getting permission to land aircraft for the evacuations has been a major problem.
"The whole thing reverted back to a combat situation which the UN is neither equipped nor mandated for," a Western diplomat on the Council says.
"We can't go on with the current situation. The UN is embroiled in a civil war," another diplomat on the Council agrees. Boutros-Ghali's proposal
In a report to the Council released Jan. 26, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali cited "outrageous harassment and physical abuse" of UN personnel and estimated the cost of stolen and damaged UN equipment at more than $5 million.
Mr. Boutros-Ghali recommended a sharp cutback in the UN mission to 64 personnel, confined largely to Luanda, and establishing a deadline such as April 30 by which the mission would end - unless the warring parties had agreed to a cease-fire and negotiations to a settlement were under way.
Still, an enlarged role for the UN could well lie ahead. Potential tasks range from mediating and supervising a second round of elections to providing technical assistance and demobilizing troops. But Boutros-Ghali says the UN should not undertake a substantial field operation until both parties clearly are ready to honor their commitments.
It is that kind of flexibility which the Council wants to build into its renewal of the UN verification mission (UNAVEM II).
"I think everybody agrees that the UN cannot and should not turn its back on Angola and that we should be ready to strengthen the UN presence there if the situation on the ground develops in a way that justifies it," says Sir David Hannay, Britain's ambassador to the UN. "But we don't want to put UN personnel unnecessarily at risk."
Any attempt by the UN to stop the fighting in Angola would require major changes in the UN's mandate and commitment.
"Anytime the UN gets into a situation in which a cease-fire is not absolutely glued together, it stands on the edge of greater involvement," comments I. William Zartman, director of African Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Role vs. circumstance
"In southern Lebanon the UN forces just get pushed aside as the fighting goes on around them," Mr. Zartman says. "In Somalia the UN, including US forces, has been pushed to take a more active role. That's the next step in this kind of peacekeeping intervention, but it involves a much larger commitment in money, troops, and mission."
The mandate of the UN mission in Angola was sharply limited from the outset. In the first phase the UN oversaw the withdrawal of Cuban troops, a process completed by May 1991. In UNAVEM II, the current mission, the UN was to verify the arrangements agreed to by the two parties for monitoring the cease-fire, demobilizing their troops, and forming a new unified army and police force. UN personnel were not in charge.
The UN has been criticized for not having insisted on disarming all parties before last fall's election. A number of diplomats question whether the Angolan government and Mr. Savimbi ever would have agreed to such a UN role. Boutros-Ghali asserted in his report that the UN should become closely involved in negotiating arrangements that complete the peace process.