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Government, UNITA opposition begin indirect talks in Angola


LUANDA, Angola -- Angola's government and the main opposition group have begun indirect talks in an effort to avert a return to civil war over the disputed elections held last month. But the two sides appeared to be far apart.

The talks are being mediated by South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. Botha, who has been trying to steer the two main antagonists, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi of the opposition UNITA, into face-to-face negotiations.

Mr. Botha's role in Angola's political imbroglio has become crucial because Mr. Savimbi has refused to meet with senior officials from the United States, Mr. Savimbi's biggest backer during UNITA's 16-year insurgency against the leftist government.

Mr. Savimbi has accused Washington of siding with the ruling party during the election, a charge that American officials have called ludicrous.

The most important differences involve the legitimacy of the elections. The last unofficial returns, covering 80 percent of the ballots cast, showed Mr. dos Santos with 51 percent of the vote, Mr. Savimbi with 39 percent, and the remainder divided among nine other candidates.

Mr. Savimbi has charged the election was marred by widespread fraud and vote-rigging, and threatened to resume the guerrilla war if the government posted final, official results showing Mr. dos Santos with a majority.

A Foreign Ministry official said it was highly unlikely that Mr. dos Santos and other members of the ruling party would agree to some form of provisional or coalition government, but said they might be amenable to new elections. A scenario in which new elections are held appears all the more likely given the possibility that Mr. dos Santos may have failed to win the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

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