Angola signs peace treaty with rebels

November 21, 1994|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

LUSAKA, Zambia -- After 19 years of civil war and 12 months of intense negotiations to stop it, the Angolan government yesterday signed a long-awaited peace agreement with the country's UNITA rebels.

But even as the two sides agreed to peace, warfare continued in their embattled homeland.

If the agreement holds, it would end one of Africa's longest and bloodiest conflicts, a war that killed more than a half-million people and made refugees of two million more, a fight that began when Gerald Ford sat in the White House and Leonid Brezhnev occupied the Kremlin.

However, serious doubts remained on whether the peace would take hold. Conspicuously absent from the signing was UNITA's leader, Jonas Savimbi. In his place sat Gen. Eugenio Manuvakola, UNITA's chief negotiator.

UNITA officials said Mr. Savimbi had remained in Angola because of transportation problems. Just days ago, they said, the Angolan army bombed a small airport that Mr. Savimbi had planned to use, making it impossible for him to leave the country. They also said the UNITA leader was concerned for his safety.

In Mr. Savimbi's absence, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos withheld his signature, too, though he did attend the two-hour ceremony. The accord was signed, instead, by Angola's foreign minister, Venancio de Moura.

Under the treaty, a permanent cease-fire is to take effect tomorrow.

The agreement also calls for power-sharing. Fifty percent of Angola's new army, for example, would be made up of UNITA troops, and 20 percent of the country's police force would be reserved for UNITA. The rebels also would get a designated number of seats in parliament.

All this would be designed to lead to democratic elections, but negotiators said voting in Angola could be years away.

A truce was declared last week, but fighting went on. Yesterday, combat was reported in central and northern Angola, and aid workers said the rebel-held northern city of Uige was besieged.

International diplomats who attended the ceremony were clearly disappointed that Mr. Savimbi was a no-show, but most tried to put a good face on the awkward situation.

"Obviously, we would have preferred to have him here," said George Moose, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "What's important is that the peace agreement is being signed."

The war in Angola dates to 1975, when rival black leaders began vying for power shortly before the country's independence from Portugal.

The war eventually became a proxy battle in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States and South Africa supplied aid to UNITA, while the Soviet Union and Cuba supported the socialist government.

But hostilities in Angola outlived the freeze in U.S.-Soviet relations. At the signing yesterday, U.S. diplomats and military officers sat elbow to elbow with their Russian counterparts.

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