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Is the Angolan Nightmare Finally Over?

December 23, 1990

Imagine. Nearly 16 years of a brutal civil war funded largely by the United States and the Soviet Union is coming to an end. Angolans may actually soon witness a little peace, stability and democracy.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III conferred recently with Pedro Van Dunem, the foreign minister of the Moscow-backed Angolan government. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze also chatted for the first time with an old enemy--the U.S.-backed Jonas Savimbi, head of the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

The parallel sessions were held to smooth the way for peace negotiations scheduled next month in Portugal, the former colonial ruler of Angola. This coordinated push for peace is important, but not as essential as ending all military aid now.

The Cold War motivated the expensive alliances. The Soviet Union annually dropped as much as $800 million into the Angolan blood bucket and sent more than 1,000 advisers to the then-Marxist government. The Cubans sent thousands of soldiers to this government, founded by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) after Angola gained its independence in 1975.

Washington countered with an annual $60 million in aid, including land mines and missiles to Savimbi and UNITA. Savimbi also enjoyed the backing of South Africa.

And what a cost! More than 300,000 Angolans died in the fighting. An estimated 50,000 Angolans--primarily women and children--lost limbs from land mines. Another 20,000 children became orphans. A truce is overdue.

It's not there yet. The Angolan government and UNITA have already agreed in principle to switch from a Marxist government to a multi-party democracy. After a cease-fire, free elections will be scheduled. Savimbi wants to run for president. But is the dictatorial--some would say murderous--leader willing to lead all Angolans?

The war still takes its toll. Another 800,000 Angolans face starvation because of the battles and a punishing drought. The only good thing to say about this proxy war--one that was manipulated by Cold War forces--is that an end may be in sight.

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