- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

In the wake of the killing of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in Angola over the weekend, the Bush administration is wasting no time putting Africa into sharper focus. Today, President Bush is meeting with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and President Festus Mogae of Botswana to discuss how peace can be established in the region. This summit signals the White House's understanding of the potential impact of Mr. Savimbi's death and the need for quick U.S. engagement in Angola.

As the head of the UNITA rebel group, Mr. Savimbi was one of the main combatants in Angola's 27-year-long civil war. Since Mr. Savimbi wasn't fond of competition, he was the sole driving force in UNITA, and his death has created a power vacuum that could cause the group to splinter. If UNITA degenerates into a disparate group of feudal warlords, a negotiated peace to the ongoing conflict could be elusive and violence could escalate. For this reason, it is critical that the dos Santos government move quickly to demonstrate it will embrace a truly pluralistic democratic process in Angola and will give UNITA leaders a fair opportunity to further their aims through political means. The Bush administration must unequivocally tell Mr. dos Santos that he must negotiate the date for new democratic elections with UNITA. Furthermore, Washington should pledge assistance in helping the democratic process along in Angola.

The Bush administration seems to understand just what is at stake right now. The State Department said that the death of Mr. Savimbi "is yet another casualty in a war that should have ended long ago. We call upon both sides, in conjunction with the peaceful opposition, civil sectors and international community, to fulfill their obligation to bring peace to the Angolan people. The United States remains committed to achieving peace and equitable development in Angola."

Surely, the death of Mr. Savimbi will test the dos Santos government in new ways. Mr. dos Santos had been able to justify his repressive tactics and profligate military spending on the conflict with UNITA. The Bush administration must also look closely at how African conflicts are feeding off each other. Mr. dos Santos has formed an alliance with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to prevent it from harboring Mr. Savimbi's fighters. The Congo, in turn, has joined forces with the governments of other conflict-ridden countries, such as Zimbabwe. Mr. Bush must address these destructive relationships today during the summit meeting. Mr. dos Santos can no longer point to Mr. Savimbi to justify his alliance with these governments, his crackdown on freedom or his spending on his war machine. Mr. Bush must make clear that Mr. dos Santos' commitment to peace will be tested and watched.


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