Diplomats strive to save Angola from war

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The Independent Online
STANDING on the airstrip in a black dress and speaking into a walkie-talkie yesterday, Britain's Margaret Anstee, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General, was well into another day of frantic diplomatic efforts to avert war in Angola.

She had just come from a morning meeting with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and was about to board an aircraft for the central highlands town of Huambo to speak to Jonas Savimbi, the opposition leader who has threatened to resume Angola's 16-year civil war over what he claimed were fraudulent general elections. There to see her off was the government's top military man, General Antonio dos Santos Franca, better known by his nom de guerre, Ndalu. 'Things are very bad,' he said. 'We are at the brink of war.'

Gen Ndalu, joint commander of a new unified Angolan Armed Forces, should know. On Thursday he too flew to Huambo in a vain effort to convince Mr Savimbi that all his complaints about the 29-30 September legislative and presidential elections would be fully investigated.

Four commissions, including officials from the National Electoral Council, the government, the United Nations and Mr Savimbi's own National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) are handling the inquiries.

Last night the mission appeared to be succeeding. Mr Savimbi told the UN that he expected to travel to Luanda for talks on forming a government of national reconciliation. 'We just heard the news that Dr Savimbi is likely to come to Luanda in accepting President dos Santos's invitation. We feel that there is still time and still grounds for optimism,' said the US Assistant Secretary of State, Herman Cohen. Mr Cohen, who on Thursday told Congress that senior Savimbi associates assured him the rebel leader would accept the election results and not resume civil war, said yesterday: 'I feel that as long as dialogue continues there is hope.' He spoke with reporters at the State Department after a one-hour meeting with the Angolan Foreign Minister, Pedro Castro van Dunem.

Angola's current crisis was sparked by Mr Savimbi's rejection of the election on 3 October, and withdrawal of his Unita forces from the new unified army. Since then, Gen Ndalu said, Unita soldiers have begun to abandon assembly points set up under the May 1991 peace agreement brokered by the US, the Soviet Union and Portugal. 'They are pulling out and returning to their old bases,' Gen Ndalu said.

So it was Miss Anstee's turn to see Mr Savimbi, and if she succeeds she will become the first Western diplomat to do so since the former guerrilla leader went into hiding one week ago. The traditional major backers of Unita, such as the United States and South Africa, have lost all leverage over the former rebel leader. Both countries have issued strong statements saying that once the results are declared and the investigations completed, they will recognise the results.

Miss Anstee's mission is to discover what Mr Savimbi wants. Some diplomats and Angolan officials believe he would settle for the government's agreement to a second round of presidential elections, given that President dos Santos' margin of victory is about 50.9 to 39 per cent and anything below 50 per cent would warrant a run-off vote in any case.

But there is little evidence that Mr Savimbi would fare any better in a new vote. His Unita party's loss to the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was overwhelming, by 55 to 33 per cent.

Gen Ndalu believes that he knows what is happening. 'At the end of it, Savimbi will not settle for a position in the new government. Savimbi just wants to be the leader,' he says.