Botha scents Angola peace deal

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IN AN attempt to avert a return to civil war in Angola, Pik Botha, the South African Foreign Minister, yesterday tried for five hours to persuade Jonas Savimbi, the Unita rebel leader, not to go back to war.

In the central town of Huambo, in a region which supports Mr Savimbi, Mr Botha tried to convince the Unita leader to accept some form of power-sharing even though he had lost the election. In return, Mr Botha listened for several hours as Unita leaders detailed alleged cases of vote-rigging in the

29-30 September elections.

He said although he would have to check with the United Nations observers and the UN Security Council mission in Angola, he was increasingly convinced that the election had been marred by substantial irregularities.

At one stage journalists from the Independent and the Financial Times were invited to witness the talks. It was an extraordinary spectacle. Mr Botha, whose government armed and defended Mr Savimbi in his war against the Angola government for more than 10 years, urged him to choose the path of peace. Mr Savimbi told Mr Botha: 'I can listen to you because you have been my friend and you have never betrayed me like others have betrayed me.'

Mr Botha replied: 'I cannot create miracles, but I will try. You have touched me.'

During his two-day visit, Mr Botha has also tried to persuade President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to accept some form of power-sharing. They met on Monday, and the President asked Mr Botha to find out what Mr Savimbi was thinking. They met again last night after his trip to Huambo.

Unofficial results from the elections, the first in Angola, gave Mr dos Santos a commanding lead, though possibly not with the 50 per cent majority needed to avoid a runoff. Unita called the vote fraudulent and threatened to resume the country's 16-year civil war. Last night, for the second night this week, there was heavy gunfire in the capital, Luanda. Two people are reported killed.

Although the negotiations are still in their infancy, the outlines of a deal began to emerge during the Botha- Savimbi encounter, which would involve a powersharing arrangement between Unita and Mr dos Santos's ruling MPLA party, as well as Unita administration in areas where it is strongest in the central highland provinces.

Could Mr Savimbi guarantee that Unita would not return to violence, Mr Botha asked. 'You have my word and you know me well,' Mr Savimbi replied. Would Mr Savimbi be willing to meet Mr dos Santos? 'Absolutely,' Mr Savimbi responded. 'What I am asking you to do is convince President dos Santos that he needs us to bring the country together. . . . (Unless Unita is taken into account) the country will never be unified again.'

A smile crept across Mr Botha's face. 'There is international support for this concept in a solution in this country,' he said. In the past few years he has negotiated spectacular agreements in southern Africa, such as the Nkomati peace accord between South Africa and Mozambique, Namibian independence and the Cuban withdrawal from Angola.

'I smell another one,' he said.