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Angola Gets a Shot at Peace

September 14, 2002

Angola, playground for other nations' armies and graveyard of failed peace treaties, now appears to have a cease-fire. The military wing of the main remaining rebel movement disbanded several weeks ago, a promising indication that the country of beautiful beaches and devastated countryside can start to rebuild.

The birth of what could become real peace came in February, with the death of Jonas Savimbi, founder of the surviving rebel band UNITA, or the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. UNITA began fighting for power even before the country broke free from Portugal in 1975. South Africa backed Savimbi's forces in the early days; Cuban troops assisted the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, which formed the government and continued to fight Savimbi. After the rebel leader's death, the government and UNITA agreed to end the war.

The decades of bloodshed resulted in what the United Nations calls the world's highest proportion of "internal refugees," an estimated 4.5 million people living in temporary shelters far from their villages. U.N. refugee officials say an additional 450,000 Angolans are in refugee camps in Zambia and other neighboring countries.

Last week, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visited Angola and met with the nation's president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who had been Savimbi's chief rival. Powell told the president that the nation needs to end the corruption that rakes off an estimated $1 billion of the $6 billion it earns each year from oil revenues. The country has significant oil reserves, and an end to the fighting could allow it to greatly increase production.

Powell also met with a commission working to make sure the agreement to end the civil war is carried out effectively. He promised aid to help resettle rebel soldiers and urged reconciliation between the government and UNITA.

That will be difficult. UNITA disbanded its military wing in August, but its former fighters and their former opponents remain bitter. Oil revenues could create jobs for the onetime soldiers. Jobs would let them feed their families and steer them away from banditry. There's certainly plenty to do, from clearing the mines that litter the landscape to planting crops on ground chewed up by war.

For decades, Angolan armies routinely violated cease-fires. But the death of Savimbi gives this one a chance for success. So does the weariness of a nation that has seen half a million people killed in a quarter-century. Dos Santos should understand that the United States and other nations will provide assistance, but only if it is used to feed and house people and rebuild the country, not to enrich corrupt officials.

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