LUANDA, Angola -- A large banner hangs from the front of th Hotel Tourismo in downtown Luanda, heralding a new day for this shattered African country after 16 years of civil war.
"Tempos Novos Em Angola," it proclaims in bold black letters iPortuguese, the official language. "New Times in Angola," the crippled giant of a country on the southwest African coast.
But the names on the guest list of the modest hotel announced the change even more dramatically than the banner outside, erected by the ruling political party. Representatives of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, the rebel movement that waged a devastating guerrilla war against the government, returned to the capital city in mid-June, checked into the Hotel Tourismo and began setting the stage for the first free elections in Angola's history.
UNITA's return to this decayed and dilapidated city was part of an agreement signed May 31 to bring peace and multiparty democracy to Angola, which has known mostly war and Marxist-Leninism during the past 16 years. Before the civil war began in 1975, Angolans fought a 14-year struggle for independence against the Portuguese who colonized the country in the 1400s.
"This is the first time the Angolan people will be able to be apeace for 500 years," said President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, whose one-party government abandoned its Marxist policies in December and accepted multiparty elections as part of the new agreement.
"The people want change," said Elias Salupeto, head of thUNITA delegation in Luanda pending rebel leader Jonas Savimbi's much-heralded arrival later next month. "The struggle
of UNITA has given Angolans the opportunity to think about democracy."
But for most Angolans, the signing of the peace accord also hagiven them a chance to think about repairing their country, which paid a high price for the Cold War struggle waged here between U.S.-backed rebels and Soviet-assisted Angolan troops.
More than 300,000 people died in the war, which also pitteSouth Africans on the rebel side against Cuban soldiers who fought alongside the Marxist government troops. An estimated 80,000 lost arms and legs in land mine explosions, and 1.9 million were forced to flee their homes and seek safety in the cities or outside the country.
More than $25 billion in damage was inflicted on the nation'roads, bridges, power plants and dams. The Benguela Railroad, which once transported minerals from Zaire and Zambia to Angola's busy ports, has been so badly sabotaged by rebels that it hardly exists.
In towns and cities across Angola, municipal services havcollapsed from a combination of overuse, government neglect and rebel sabotage. Private generators provide the only reliable power supply in the cities, which are overcrowded and underdeveloped.
"Luanda was built for 300,000 people, but it has 1.3 milliopeople today," said Otto Essien, the chief United Nations representative in Angola. "There is overcrowding and abuse of the city by people who are not used to being in cities. These people came directly from the countryside. Nobody knows where most of them went."
In Luanda, large families are crammed into small apartments thaseldom have both electricity and running water. Neither toilets nor elevators work in most of the buildings erected by the Portuguese colonists before 1975.
High-rise buildings under construction at the time of the hastPortuguese departure stand exactly as they did 16 years ago, with cranes suspended over skeletons of concrete and steel.
"The war has had a devastating effect on Angola," said GerAugusto, a black American economist who married an Angolan government representative in Tanzania and moved to Luanda in 1979. "Over half the population is under 15. They have known nothing but war. Money that should have been spent on books was spent on war."
The combination of war and failed policies also has left thAngolan economy in ruins and has reduced a country that once exported food to beggar status. There is virtually no formal private sector, except for the oil industry, which earns $1 billion a year and had been the major source of government funds for the war.
Shops along Luanda's wide boulevards are mostly empty. Mosof the population trades on the black market, buying goods stolen from containerships at the port. Instead of traveling with money in their pockets, women walk through the streets with cases of beer on their heads that they use to barter for other goods.
"It has been calculated that 68 percent of the goods in the blacmarket come from the port," said an official of one international agency. "People steal them, which means the government is financing the parallel market while the formal sectors of the economy have collapsed."
For people in rural areas, the suffering is particularly acuteHundreds of thousands have been forced into refugee camps that ring towns and villages all over the country. Many have been living off assistance from international relief agencies while the farmland sits fallow, having been turned into battlefields.
Land mines have been planted along rural roads and in maizfields all across Angola, rendering thousands of acres of farmland useless and creating an army of one-legged civilians known as "mutilados."
In effect, the entire society has been crippled by war. They arready for peace.
"Our people are tired of war," said Bishop Serafim Shynto yHombo, head of the Peace and Justice Committee of the Angolan Catholic Church.
"We see that arms do not bring peace. What we need now is understanding."
Soldiers on both sides of the war -- from the government armknown by its Portuguese acronym FAPLA and from the UNITA army known as FALA -- also say they are ready to put down their arms and take up the task of rebuilding the country.
"We knew why we had to fight. Now we know why we have t help each other," said Col. Raphael da Silva Kalipi, a UNITA officer stationed outside the battered town of Luena, site of a 45-day battle that was the last contest of the war.
"A lot of FAPLA soldiers are my brothers," said Colonel Kalipi. Hmeant this both figuratively and literally. Two of his brothers fought on the government side, while he and three brothers joined UNITA in a war that divided many Angolan families.
Under the peace accord signed by the government and UNITAsoldiers on both sides will turn in their arms and form a pool from which a new national army will be chosen. The army will be in place by the time elections are held in late 1992.
The whole process leading up to elections will be guided by joint commission made up of representatives of both sides and international monitors from the United States, the Soviet Union and Portugal.
"The aim of this process is not just to end the fighting but testablish multiparty democracy," said Jeff Millington, the head of the new U.S. liaison office in Luanda.
Before Mr. Millington's arrival in June, the United States had no diplomatic relations with Angola, but the relationship between the two countries improved during peace negotiations in which the U.S. government acted as a mediator.
OC Mr. Millington noted that the cease-fire has held since mid-May,when it received initial approval from leaders of the two sides. He said that was in large part because "the two military sides really wanted this to end."
The challenge now is to make Angola functional again and repaithe damage caused by three decades of fighting.
"The immediate future of Angola is not a bright one," said PaulinPinto Joao, a former minister of information who left the government to form his own political party last month.
"In this period of two years, there will be political turmoil and disputes. The most basic problems of the population will not be the focus of the policies.
"Only after elections with a new government will it be possible thave a clear vision of what can be realized in the future. The challenge is very big. It will be necessary to start from zero," he said.
The one possible guarantee that the country will not lapse bacinto war is that the population is weary of all the destruction and suffering.
"The soldiers are no longer interested in war. The population ino longer interested in war," said Mr. Joao.
"Nobody is interested in war."
ANGOLA THE AFTERMATH
One month ago, a cease-fire was signed to end Angola's 16-year civil war.
The civil war was a byproduct of a Cold War battle of ideologies far removed from the experience of average Angolans, but devastating to their lives.
In a series of three articles, The Sun looks at the country's hopes to put itself together again against difficult odds.
TODAY: Looking forward to democracy and free elections.
TOMORROW MORNING IN THE SUN: A country ruined by thredecades of war.
TUESDAY: The marketplace.