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S Africa makes a deal with Angola: Oil exploration contract paves the way

THE PROSPECT of securing future Angolan oil supplies in return for a pledge by South Africa to clamp down on arms supplies to the rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, appears to have calmed the often stormy relationship between Pretoria and Luanda.

A South African delegation arrived in Luanda on Monday to re-open its embassy which had been closed since November for 'security reasons', following Mr Savimbi's decision to relaunch the civil war against the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. The diplomatic breakthrough came after an announcement that Angola had granted a licence for oil exploration near the petroleum- rich enclave of Cabinda by a consortium which includes Engen, a South African subsidiary of the US company Mobil Oil.

The South African Foreign Ministry director for southern Africa, Gert Groebler, said in Luanda that Pretoria would work to halt arms shipments to Mr Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) movement and the recruitment of mercenaries. 'We are going to work towards a constructive co- operation,' he said on Thursday. On Wednesday, Mr Groebler had held discussions on the resumption of direct flights between Luanda and Johannesburg with officials of Angola's state airline, Taag.

Mr dos Santos has repeatedly accused Pretoria of aiding its long-time client, Mr Savimbi, by allowing clandestine planeloads of arms, ammunition and food to depart from South Africa for either Unita-controlled territory in Angola or trans-shipment through neighbouring Zaire.

On 11 March, Mr dos Santos wrote to the UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to complain of a covert supply operation carried out by a private company, Wonder Air. The letter alleged that on 26 February the operation was discussed at a meeting attended by officials of the Foreign Affairs Department, the South African Defence Force, the Air Force, the National Intelligence Service and civil aviation authorities. He urged Mr Boutros-Ghali to use his 'personal influence to press the South African government to put an immediate end to such operations'.

The resumption of Angola's 17-year civil war followed Mr Savimbi's retreat to his central highlands stronghold of Huambo in October, after Unita lost to the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the country's first general elections in September. Mr dos Santos won the first round of the presidential polls, but not with the 50 per cent of the vote necessary to avoid a run-off. Since the war resumed, an estimated 20,000 people have died and Unita has gained control of some 70 per cent of the country.

UN-brokered peace talks in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, have dragged on for more than a month, with Unita refusing a government demand for it to withraw from areas it occupied since the fighting resumed in October.