Angola after Savimbi

Civil war: Peace process must accelerate now that rebel leader is dead in southwest African country.

February 27, 2002

JONAS SAVIMBI was a survivor.

He outlasted Cold War rivalries and apartheid South Africa, which financed his long struggle to topple Angola's Marxist government. After outside support dried up, he kept the war going by mining some of the world's finest diamonds. His slaying last week, at the age of 67, may finally bring a chance for peace in that southwest African country.

This is why timing was so opportune for this week's meeting between President Bush and Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Momentum toward peace was gaining before Mr. Savimbi's killing, with the United Nations trying to broker yet another effort to end the 27-year civil war.

Although disorganized, Mr. Savimbi's rebel UNITA movement carries on despite his death. Its territorial hold has steadily shrunk, but UNITA can afford to continue the war because it still controls some of the most profitable diamond mines in Angola, a country more than three times the size of California.

During the Cold War, the Soviets and Fidel Castro's Cuba propped up the dos Santos regime and the United States aided Mr. Savimbi's guerrillas.

All that is now largely irrelevant history. For the past 10 years, the Angolan battle has been a non-ideological war fueled by greed. UNITA has its diamonds, but the government controls oil deposits so rich they are believed to exceed Saudi Arabia's. The revenue, though, has enriched only a variety of thugs; ordinary Angolans are among the world's poorest people.

There are few good guys on either side in Angola. The government is inefficient and corrupt. UNITA is no better. But Mr. Savimbi's death has created one of those rare opportunities to put Angola and its 13 million people back on the path toward normalcy. Enough killing, enough maiming by land mines.

There have so many false promises in Angola that it's difficult to be optimistic about a lasting peace. But Washington can and must play a constructive role in efforts to bring hostilities to an end.

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