IN activating an embargo on arms and fuel sales to rebels in Angola, the United Nations Security Council has sent a clear signal, even if the embargo is largely symbolic: UNITA must bring its forces to heel and return to face the government at the bargaining table. Except for a 16-month hiatus that ended last October, fighting has continued since 1975 at an estimated cost of 450,000 lives.
That toll continues to mount. The UN special representative to Angola, Alioune Blondin Beye, has said that 1,000 people are dying daily from direct or indirect effects of the fighting. Even if the figure is exaggerated, as some suspect, fighting between government forces and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) has shifted from the bush to cities, affecting many more people. Relief agencies say that this month, they have reached only 600,000 of the 2 million who need food aid. Aid workers have been among the civil war's casualties.
Current fighting dates to last October, after UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi rejected the results of internationally monitored presidential elections. He lost the first-ever democratic poll in September 1992 to Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the country's longtime Marxist leader. The results warranted a runoff in November, but, trounced in the parliamentary vote, Mr. Savimbi took to the battlefield instead of the campaign trail. That was a mistake; it isolated him and led Washington, his former patron, to recognize the Dos Santos government in May.
What remains of last October's opportunity to end Angola's anguish? The government has asked for talks but also feels that pushing UNITA into the bush will quickly end the war. The rebels now feel the government is bent on UNITA's destruction.
Still, UNITA bears responsibility for resuming the war. Savimbi should make the first real moves to end it by adopting a sincere cease-fire and resuming negotiations with Luanda. The Security Council is prepared to seek expulsion of UNITA representatives from foreign capitals and freeze the organization's assets. We hope expulsion won't be necessary; it is a two-edged sword. Such isolation could be an important way to check UNITA's ambitions. But neither should its leaders, who reignited the civil war, be rewarded with access to world capitals. UNITA relies on these pulpits to attract support.
The government is finally responsible for its citizens' welfare. Prolonging the battle does not meet that charge. If reimposing an arms embargo against the Dos Santos government is needed to help rediscover that negotiations are a short-term option, an embargo should be applied.