Angolan Leaders Welcome US Bid to Lift Embarg

Angolan Leaders Welcome US Bid to Lift Embarg

THE decision by the United States to lift its embargo on nonlethal military supplies to Angola has boosted the Angolan government's diplomatic offensive against the country's rebel army but could intensify an escalating civil war, the Monitor's John Battersby reports from Johannesburg.

"The US has finally lost patience with UNITA [the rebel Union for the Total Independence of Angola] and now it's a question of how far [UNITA leader Jonas] Savimbi is prepared to go in alienating remaining sympathizers in Washington," an African diplomat says.

The US move, on June 29, came six weeks after peace talks between the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and UNITA broke down over the future administration of UNITA-held areas.

The MPLA has welcomed the US move and said it would help to put the Angolan Army on a more equal footing with UNITA. Angolan officials say the US move effectively negates the terms of the May 1991 Bicesse peace accords, which banned all military supplies to the Angolan government.

The US, Russia, and Portugal - as observer nations - were co-signatories to the accords, which were underwritten by the international community. But there have been reports of recent arms sales to the MPLA by Brazil, France, and Israel.

US officials insist that the lifting of the ban on nonlethal supplies does not necessarily indicate a step on the road to supplying arms to the Angolan government.

UNITA has sharply criticized the US move, saying that it has created a conflict with the Bicesse accords.

"Our experience shows that this line of action will not help the peace process," says Jardo Muekalia, UNITA's representative in Washington. "It can only needlessly prolong the war," he says, adding that Angola needed creative mediation and a return to peace talks rather than more weapons.

The US, Portugal, and Russia are due to meet again July 8 to discuss the deteriorating situation in Angola and explore ways of returning to United Nations-sponsored peace talks. They will also reconsider the ban on arms sales to the Angolan government. Riots Rage in South Africa

The UN mandate expires on July 15 and the Security Council will have to decide before that date whether to further scale down its presence in Angola.

"I think Savimbi will try to avert a UN withdrawal," said a Western diplomat. "Washington's move on the arms embargo should help to lever him back to the negotiating table."

Since the talks broke down, Washington has recognized the MPLA government, and UNITA rebels have strengthened their military hold over an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the country and consolidated their control of Angola's diamond fields in the northeast. The rebels have also captured towns to the north and east of the capital but military observers do not believe they have the capacity to launch an attack on the capital, where the rebels enjoy minimal support.

Rival factions waged running gun battles in the streets of two black townships in South Africa, pushing the nationwide death toll past 125 in four days of fighting, officials told the Associated Press July 6. Worst-hit were Tokoza and Katlehong, a pair of dusty, impoverished townships southeast of Johannesburg that have regularly erupted into urban warfare in recent years.

The fighting is part of the bitter power struggle between the African National Congress, the country's largest black group, and the Inkatha Freedom Party, a conservative Zulu movement.

Police said most of the fighting appeared to be between ANC and Inkatha supporters, but disputes between taxi drivers competing for routes and passengers may also be fueling the conflict.

Many township residents support the ANC. But Zulu men who live in single-sex workers' hostels back the conservative Inkatha movement. Much of the latest fighting has taken place outside the hostels, where the Zulus and other residents converge.

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