- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Angola's Jonas Savimbi, legendary guerrilla leader of UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), was killed by communist MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) forces in combat last week. Mr. Savimbi's death follows the assassination of another renowned guerrilla leader in Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Masood, two days prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11. These remarkable leaders, along with Enrique Bermudez of the Nicaraguan Contras, also assassinated years ago, were direct beneficiaries of the Reagan Doctrine, a critical component of the effort by President Reagan to defeat the Soviet empire by rolling back Soviet-backed regimes in the Third World.

The Reagan Doctrine was a stunning success. The Red Army was bloodied and forced to quit Afghanistan, and the Sandinistas were replaced by a democratically elected government in Nicaragua. Also, covert U.S. military aid to UNITA allowed the group to expel the 60,000-strong Cuban occupation force in Angola and helped turn the tide of war, forcing a peace settlement. The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall relegated these conflicts to the back burner. The first Bush administration, consumed by its own bleak re-election prospects, turned Angola's first elections over to the United Nations for oversight and, in turn, a biased United Nations let the MPLA count the ballots. Internal U.N. documents proved the balloting rife with fraud.

The run-off election between Eduardo Dos Santos and Mr. Savimbi was never held. While negotiating the run-off, under a white flag of truce, the MPLA launched a holocaust against UNITA and other opposition parties, in a mass killing spree Australian reporter Jill Joliffe labeled the "night of the long knives." UNITA diplomats, party officers and activists were slaughtered nationwide, with the body count estimated in the tens of thousands. The prominent, Western-educated Vice President Jeremias Chitunda, well-known and regarded by high-level Reagan officials, was executed trying to escape the capital, Luanda, along with other top diplomats. Chitunda worked successfully to repeal the Clark Amendment in 1985, paving the way for the covert-aid program.

The new Clinton administration quickly sided with the MPLA and, along with the United Nations, imposed sanctions on UNITA for refusing to submit to fraudulent elections. Today, duly elected UNITA parliamentarians are hostages in Luanda. Abel Chivukuvuku, the charismatic UNITA foreign minister, twice has been the target of assassination in Luanda. True to their Stalinist roots, the MPLA methodically bought or co-opted its political opposition, and whom it could not buy, it killed.

Regrettably, the new Bush administration perpetuated the Clinton administration's executive orders against UNITA, which shut down UNITA's diplomatic offices and unconstitutionally prohibited even U.S. citizens from representing UNITA. The State Department's Africa Bureau for years has been compromised by American oil companies operating in Angola (who were kept at arm's length under Reagan and Bush I), which explains the perpetuation of the Clinton Angola policy. Insight magazine described the problem as a "revolving door" syndrome fraught with conflicts of interest with State Department Africa officials leaving government service for lucrative MPLA lobbying contracts, then lobbying their former co-workers, and in at least one case, returning to Foggy Bottom to work on Angola.

Mr. Savimbi knew the United States was an unreliable ally and that the State Department and CIA could not be trusted. In the midst of one MPLA offensive, UNITA, desperately short of bullets and other munitions, received shipments of sanitary napkins and boots. But Mr. Savimbi and UNITA fought on with determination, rejecting lives of comfort and safety in exile, and enduring the rigors of combat and the harsh deprivation of life in the bush. UNITA faced impossible odds, with no foreign government left on its side, all corrupted by billions of dollars worth of Angolan crude, and an army of lobbyists paid for by oil proceeds.

President Bush, last June, along with South Africa's president, urged direct negotiations between UNITA and the MPLA. Mr. Dos Santos and his kleptocratic communist cadres had never been willing to negotiate until facing military overthrow. The murder of Mr. Savimbi was a slap in the face to Mr. Bush, after the call for peace talks. The U.S. response should be to repeal the Clinton executive orders on Angola, to call for an end to the killings, to forge a genuine national reconciliation, to re-exert political control over State's Africa Bureau, and to ensure that U.S. foreign policy is not debased by our dependency on foreign oil.

Mr. Savimbi, responding once to a journalist who asked why we couldn't assume he would be just another bloody dictator if he won the civil war, said: "Because I know that no one can rule Angola without a government of compromise." That is still to be the country's fate, even without Mr. Savimbi's strong leadership.

The MPLA feared and hated Mr. Savimbi because of his magnetism, his brilliant oratory and the devotion he won from the Angolan people. He stood in sharp contrast to the colorless and untelegenic Communist Party bureaucrats in Luanda. Isolating Mr. Savimbi through Western sanctions, which deprived UNITA of free speech and contacts in the the Free World, was their ultimate coup. But Mr. Savimbi, as a martyr, becomes an ever more powerful force. His death reminds us that the Cold War never ended, and that we neglect our international friends and commitments at our peril. The United States forgot Afghanistan and was rudely awakened to the consequences of that neglect on September 11. Foremost, Mr. Savimbi's murder should prompt a revived Reagan Doctrine, dedicated to aiding with diplomatic and military support those who share our democratic principles and are willing to fight with us in future conflicts particularly in what portends to be a difficult and protracted war against terrorism.

Margaret Hemenway worked for UNITA in the mid-1980s. Martin James teaches in international studies at Henderson State University in Arkansas. Both were accredited Angolan election observers in 1992.

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