Angolan rebel leader says nation's civil war is over


JAMBA, Angola -- Confident that time and world trends are on his side, Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi says that he considers the country's long war over and that he is merely waiting for the government to accept conditions that will allow free and fair elections.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday at his headquarters in the southern Angolan bush, Mr. Savimbi called on the government's ruling party to embrace the principle of multiparty elections and to embrace verification by international monitors.

He said he would be prepared to sign a cease-fire if the leftist one-party government accepts the concept of multiparty democracy at its national party conference in the capital of Luanda this week.

"We consider sincerely that for us the war is over. It's a matter of days or months," said Mr. Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

He said that his army had dramatically scaled down its military operations and that it was focusing instead on negotiating a settlement. He said he was optimistic about the future and believed UNITA had adequate support to win elections, which he wants to be monitored by the United Nations.

"What we are asking for is just, fair and verifiable elections. If we have them, I don't have any doubts that we will win," he said.

The Angolan government has opposed the idea of U.N. supervision as interference in a sovereign country, but Mr. Savimbi said he thought that U.N. observers could provide the best guarantee for fair elections and that they would be impartial, as by most accounts they were in last year's elections that brought independence to neighboring Namibia.

The government and UNITA, under pressure from their respective Soviet and U.S. backers, have held a series of talks since April aimed at ending their 15-year-old conflict.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has said that his political party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), is willing to end one-party rule and move toward democracy. He also has hinted that the government is prepared to reject the Marxist policies that, along with the war, are credited with wrecking the country's economy.

"If the congress of the MPLA comes up with those things, I think in January we will start a new era in Angola," Mr. Savimbi said.

If a cease-fire is signed, Mr. Savimbi said he understands that financial support would end from the U.S. government -- his main supplier since South Africa stopped openly backing UNITA. His biggest concern then would be to make sure that the Angolan government did not renege on its promises and seek to destroy his rebel movement after all its backers have pulled out, he said.

A cease-fire would bring to an end the debilitating civil conflict that began after Portugal granted Angola independence in 1975 and turned over the government to a short-lived coalition of political movements. UNITA has waged a guerrilla war against the ruling party since the coalition broke down and the MPLA seized power with the help of Cuban troops.

Under an accord reached in 1988 to end foreign interference in southern Africa, Cuba agreed to a phased withdrawal of its 45,000 troops from Angola, and South Africa agreed to end its financial and military support of UNITA.

But the United States continued its support for UNITA, saying it wanted to keep pressure on Luanda to recognize the rebel movement and move toward democracy. The United States allocated $60 million in "covert" assistance to UNITA in the most recent federal budget.

Mr. Savimbi said UNITA has made several concessions in negotiations. He said that his movement has recognized Mr. dos Santos as the head of state "until elections are held," and that it has recognized the government and state of Angola.

He added that UNITA was prepared to make further concessions if necessary to facilitate peace.

An estimated 600,000 people have been killed in Angola's civil war.

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