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Angola Flowers and Drinks All Around

4 minute read
Guy D. Garcia

South African Foreign Minister Roelof (“Pik”) Botha dips into his private stock of witblits (white lightning), a fiery homemade liqueur distilled from the berries of the wild marula tree, only on special occasions. So it was a sign of the heady mood in Brazzaville, the capital of Congo, that Botha broke out the good stuff last week. Botha and his fellow negotiators, who included U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, Angolan Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Antonio dos Santos Franca and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, were celebrating the signing of a historic protocol calling for independence for Namibia and the withdrawal of all Cuban troops from Angola. “A new era has begun,” proclaimed Botha, who used the moment to strike a conciliatory note toward South Africa’s neighbors. “We want to be accepted by our African brothers. We need each other.”

The treaty, which will be formally signed this week in New York City, provides for the phased withdrawal of an estimated 50,000 Cuban troops. It also sets April 1 as the trigger date for the implementation of U.N. Resolution 435, which calls for Namibian independence and for supervised elections in the onetime German colony. The deal, delicately linking interests among all the participants, promises an end to two long-running conflicts: it caps the 13 years of hostilities between South Africa and Cuban-backed Angolan forces, and it clears the way for a cease-fire in the 22-year-old war between the Angolan-based guerrillas of the South West Africa People’s Organization and South African forces.

The agreement elicited warm praise from Cuba, Angola and the U.S., which sees the protocol as the fruit of nearly eight years of artful, arduous negotiation by Crocker — helped along toward the end by the new spirit of cooperation between Washington and Moscow. U.S. officials credit the Soviets for employing “cajolery and arm-twisting” that made the Cubans and Angolans more flexible, particularly during the crucial round of talks at which a withdrawal timetable was worked out. SWAPO welcomed the accord but expressed doubts about South African intentions. The only guarantee of Pretoria’s keeping its word after signing the agreement in New York, said a SWAPO official, is the “vigilance of the Namibian people.”

South Africa, for its part, is concerned that the Cubans may find a way to avoid living up to their end of the bargain. Despite a stipulation in the Brazzaville protocol that Cuba and Angola will reach an agreement on verification arrangements subject to U.N. Security Council approval, Botha has pushed strongly for guarantees that no Cuban troops will remain in Angola after the deadline. The Brazzaville agreement also did not address the continued presence in Angola of bases manned by anti-South African fighters of the African National Congress.

Another obstacle to peace may be Jonas Savimbi’s forces. Since 1975, Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), with U.S. and South African backing, has been waging guerrilla actions against the Marxist MPLA Angolan government. Savimbi has vowed that there will be no peace in Angola until he and his political movement become a recognized part of the MPLA government. “If not,” warned UNITA spokesman Alcides Sakala, “we will intensify our struggle, we will continue the war.”

There are indications, however, that the movement toward peace has taken on an irresistible momentum. A Cuban official at the Brazzaville signing reportedly said that South Africa had committed itself to ending aid to UNITA in exchange for Angola’s assurance that it would no longer support ANC bases in the country. Botha declined comment. But there is little question that Angola will be under increasing pressure to find a solution to its civil war in the months ahead. And Botha hinted that such a deal was possible when he told reporters that the subject of ANC bases in Angola was “a bilateral issue between South Africa and Angola.”

An end to the civil war would dovetail nicely with U.S. policy, which regards “national reunification” of Angola as the next priority in the region. “We have had a role in focusing African nations on the fact that getting foreign forces out of Angola doesn’t solve the war,” says a U.S. State Department official. “The MPLA knows that once this accord is signed, the noise from their neighbors to resolve the conflict will go from 30 to 180 decibels.”




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