Angola: After Decades of War, Bright Prospects

Hope is making a dramatic comeback throughout Angola. One year after the signing of a peace agreement in Lusaka, Zambia, the people of Angola are beginning to believe that the durable peace they have long desired may finally be at hand. This time, they may be right.

President Clinton invited President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to the White House for a Dec. 8 official working visit to affirm American commitment to the peace process.

The Clinton administration has made the search for democracy and durable peace in Angola a central theme of its Africa policy. America has an abiding interest in ending a humanitarian crisis that has cost the United States alone $300 million in emergency assistance since 1992 and, at its worst, claimed 1,000 lives per day. But unlike many conflict-ridden regions, Angola has bright economic prospects. It already supplies 7 percent of total US oil imports, and it offers immense untapped natural resources and commercial opportunities. Success in the peace effort will thus pay real dividends here at home.

Regional democratization

Angola is the final piece that will complete the puzzle of democratic and economic transformation in southern Africa. Southern Africa's democratically elected governments are now pursuing a common agenda for development based on free-market principles. Angola is poised to join its neighbors in a future paved with opportunity and prosperity. The US stands ready to be a partner in this process.

Shortly after taking office in early 1993, I became convinced that a determined new effort to restore peace did have a chance of succeeding. Seizing on this new opportunity for peace, President Clinton appointed Ambassador Paul Hare, one of our most experienced career diplomats, as our special envoy to the Angolan peace negotiations.

Working closely with United Nations Special Representative Alioune Blondin Beye and Edmund DeJarnette (at the time US ambassador to Angola), we threw our energies into an audacious negotiating effort - one that few observers gave any real chance for success.

For one intense year, while the fighting continued, the negotiators worked with consummate skill and determination to frame an accord that would convince the government and its civil war opponent, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), to abandon their military ambitions.

Mr. Beye's persistence and forthright leadership of negotiations and the implementation process provide powerful proof that the UN has a valuable role in the post-cold-war era.

The resulting peace accord, the "Lusaka Protocol," signed on Nov. 20, 1994, builds on the hard lessons of the past. It honors the government's right to govern in peace, while providing for UNITA's participation at all levels of the government and the military. It acknowledges UNITA's role in policy formulation, thereby satisfying UNITA's legitimate political and security needs.

Lifelong adversaries, President dos Santos and UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi have jointly affirmed their commitment to peace and national reconciliation. Senior negotiators on both sides continue to work out details for implementing the agreements.

As we have seen in previous, failed efforts to bring peace to Angola, successful implementation of the Lusaka Protocol will require careful and aggressive monitoring, and constant encouragement.

The recent military activities of the Angolan armed forces in northern Angola, as well as other cease-fire violations, serve as reminders that the peace process remains fragile. That is why it is extremely important that the United States and the international community not abandon their diplomatic engagements.

From distrust to disarming

My most recent visit to Angola this past November was timed to demonstrate our commitment to the Lusaka Protocol and the peace monitoring role of the United Nations peacekeepers, and to urge both UNITA and the government to put their trust in them. Two decades of war and disappointment have created monumental distrust. I believe my visit contributed to efforts to help the parties cross a crucial bridge on the road to peace: disarming of UNITA forces and withdrawal of government forces to their barracks or defensive positions.

While each side was hesitant to make the first move, neither wanted the process to collapse. In the course of my visit, they decided to cross that bridge together by agreeing to undertake simultaneous measures to demonstrate good faith.

My visit also allowed me to witness how the onset of peace is beginning to change the lives of the Angolan people, many of whom have known only war. The town of Kuito, in Angola's central highlands, was the scene of some of the most intense fighting after an earlier peace agreement broke down in late 1992. And yet, today Kuito offers signs of hope. I stood at the edge of a minefield on the outskirts of town and watched international volunteers from US-funded organizations work side by side with teams of brave Angolans removing antipersonnel mines - weapons that have claimed tens of thousands of victims throughout Angola and have blown apart the country's agricultural base.

Further east, the residents of Balombo are returning to homes that war had forced them to abandon. Upon our arrival there, we were greeted by three American nuns and a volunteer doctor from Brooklyn who have run the provincial hospital since August. Working closely with volunteers from the French organization Doctors Without Borders, they are restoring health care - and hope - to the people of this town.

In the aftermath of war, the freshly planted corn and beans gave testimony to both the incredible fertility of Angola's vast farmlands and the resilience of the Angolan people.

UN presence critical

As Presidents Clinton and Dos Santos affirmed last month, ultimately the future of Angola lies in the hands of the Angolan people, but the international community has an indispensable role to play in buttressing their efforts.

That is why the United States remains actively engaged diplomatically, to nudge both parties into compliance with the Lusaka Protocol and advance the process of national reconciliation. That is why we pledged $190 million over the next two years to help a devastated Angola make the transition from war to reconstruction. That is why we are committed to helping Angola build durable democratic structures and a free- market economy that can deliver the tangible fruits of peace to the Angolan people. And that is why it is so important that the US and the international community not waver in their support for the 7,600 UN peacekeepers.

An international presence in Angola is critical to the continued success of the peace process.

While much remains to be done, I am immensely proud of the role that the United States has played in bringing Angola to the brink of success. At a time when US leadership abroad is increasingly under domestic attack and the world's attention is gripped by crises seemingly impervious to outside influence, Angola gives cause for hope. Our experience in Angola demonstrates that sustained diplomatic engagement can work.

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