Angolan ceasefire in sight

ABIDJAN (AFP) - Agreement on a ceasefire in Angola seemed close yesterday after a first round of negotiations between the government and Unita rebels, according to delegates and UN mediators. 'We've nearly got an accord,' said Lukamba Gato, a delegate from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), after more than an hour of talks. For the Angolan government, General Cirilo de Sa said: 'Today we can indeed agree on a suspension of hostilities.'

In Luanda, however, a government military spokesman said a battle was under way for the town of Kuito in the central Bie province, where Unita attacks had killed several soldiers and civilians. Unita had also encircled Menongue, in the south-eastern Cuando-Cubango province.

Angola was plunged back into civil war in December, three months after Unita lost a UN-supervised general election held under a peace accord agreed in May 1991. Negotiators stressed the importance of the role the UN Verification Mission (Unavem) should play in monitoring a new accord. A current Unavem mandate expires on 30 April and the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has warned that developments in Abidjan would be 'decisive'.

Joao Albuquerque, a spokesman for the UN special envoy to Angola, Margaret Anstee, said: 'Basically, they want the same thing. The remaining problem is just how the cessation of hostilities can be implemented. They're talking about it practically today and not just theoretically.'

Both warring parties have called for an enlargement of the Unavem mandate, arguing that the UN should set up an 'intervention force' as well as providing humanitarian aid.

Since the war restarted, 20,000 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands injured and 2 million displaced from their homes.