By Norm Dixon
The Clinton administration on May 19 finally made good its pledge to recognise the embattled government of Angola, which was elected with a clear majority last September. Long-time US ally Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA forces still refuse to accept their defeat in that election, plunging Angola into renewed civil war. Despite its recognition of Luanda, the US has been made it clear that little will be done to help the Angolan government fend off UNITA.
The September elections followed the signing of peace accords in May 1991. Until the cease-fire that came into effect at that time, Angola had been devastated by civil war since 1975.
Throughout this war, the US and South African governments backed UNITA with vast amounts of money and sophisticated weaponry in an effort to overthrow the radical MPLA government. On several occasions, South African troops invaded southern Angola to support UNITA's operations.
Claiming the September election results were rigged, UNITA soldiers pulled out of the unified Angolan Armed Forces created under the peace accords. Savimbi fled Luanda for the UNITA stronghold of Huambo province and resumed the war. By late October, UNITA had occupied more than 50% of Angola's territory.
Since then the military fortunes of both sides have waxed and waned. UNITA controls few towns or cities other than Huambo, in Angola's centre, but continues to control large areas of the countryside in the centre and north.
There is clear evidence that the South African government has continued to aid UNITA. Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe have detected South African jet fighters and cargo planes violating their airspace en route to Angola.
The US government stalled as long as possible on
recognising the MPLA's decisive election victory. Although the UN Security Council certified the elections "free and fair" on October 30, recognition was withheld for a further six and a half months.
The US used the carrot of recognition to pressure Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos to agree to give Savimbi and UNITA a significant share of governmental power. President Clinton was forced to reassess this tactic because of Savimbi's refusal to agree to a settlement, even one that gave him substantial power. Awareness was growing in the US and abroad that it was UNITA alone that was responsible for the renewal of civil war and the growing toll it is taking on Angola's people.
Moreover, UNITA launched military attacks on US-owned and operated oil installations in Angola, angering big business interests.
As a result of the war, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund reported that in the three months to April as many 300 children a day were dying from disease in Luanda's main hospitals. This was caused by rising poverty, urban areas massively overcrowded with refugees, lack of drugs and an almost total collapse of the health system.
In the last seven months nearly 2 million people have fled the UNITA-infested countryside for Luanda. The city is estimated to have more than 3 million residents, twice as many as in 1989. Three-quarters of the city's population lives in shanties.
With all available funds being spent on defence, Luanda's rickety water and sanitation services cannot cope. The city is on the verge of a cholera epidemic. Aid workers say Angola is near famine, with more than 2 million at risk of starvation.
Since October, 20,000 people have died in the fighting. Landmines planted throughout the country continue to kill and maim. Angola is similar to Cambodia in the number of amputees per capita.
Washington's recognition of the Angolan government is unlikely to blunt UNITA's offensive or bolster
Luanda's ability to overcome the contras. Clinton stated that the US would not supply weapons to either side and would oppose other nations doing so. It is estimated that UNITA has enough military hardware — ranging from AK-47s to US-supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and armoured personnel carriers — to maintain operations for at least another year.
Six weeks of peace talks in the Ivory Coast came to nought on May 24 when UNITA refused to sign a peace plan that had been agreed to by the Angolan government.
Following its stalling of the talks, UNITA forces captured Soyo, where a third of Angola's oil is processed. There are also reports that Zairean and UNITA troops are massing near Cabinda, the region where most of Angola's oil is produced.