- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Angola’s anniversary

Angola’s ambassador heralded the progress in bilateral ties with the United States as she prepared for the 13th anniversary today of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and her southern African nation, which once imported Cuban troops to help fight U.S.-backed rebels.

Ambassador Josefina Pitra Diakite cited private U.S. business investment in the oil-rich nation, which provides about 7 percent of American energy needs, along with U.S. government help in Angola’s fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria.

“Many positive developments have taken place in Angola-U.S. bilateral relations over the past 13 years,” she said yesterday. “The U.S. recognizes the stabilizing role Angola plays in central and southern Africa, and our country has witnessed heavy investment by the American oil industry.”

She also credited the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act with helping to improve the economy, which remains one of the world’s poorest.

Angola “enjoys economic advantages offered by that trade preference program,” Mrs. Diakite said.

The ambassador noted that the two countries worked closely when Angola held a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council, saying, “That spirit of cooperation guides us as we seek to identify new commercial and diplomatic opportunities.”

President Clinton and Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos established diplomatic relations on May 19, 1993, after the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush spent most of the 1980s supporting anti-communist rebels led by Jonas Savimbi, who was killed in the conflict in 2002.

Mr. dos Santos, who still is president, and his Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola have renounced the Marxist-Leninist beliefs that won the Cold War support of the Soviet Union and Cuba. Mr. dos Santos is trying to build a market-based economy, but government corruption, patronage and destruction from the 27-year civil war continue to drag down the country, according to the 2006 Index of Economic Freedom.

The State Department has criticized the government for a poor human rights record, citing accounts of torture, prisoner abuse, arbitrary arrests and restrictions on freedom of speech, press and assembly.

But Angola has evolved into a multiparty democracy with the next presidential and national legislative elections set for September.

Staying put

Kazakhstan is one volunteer for the U.S.-led coalition of the willing that has no intention of cutting and running from Iraq, Lt. Gen. Bulat Sembinov, the Central Asian country’s deputy defense minister, told reporter David R. Sands in an interview yesterday.

New Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi yesterday became the latest foreign leader to announce plans to withdraw troops from the Iraq mission, joining Spain, Poland, Ukraine and other European allies. But Gen. Sembinov, in Washington for talks with senior defense officials here, said Kazakhstan’s 30-member contingent is staying put.

“Just because some other countries may be pulling back does not change in any way our decision,” the minister said, speaking through an interpreter. “Our troops will continue to carry out the mission we have assigned them.”

The small deployment, based in the southern Iraqi city of Al Kut, looms large in symbolic terms. It is the first foreign military mission of its kind since Kazakhstan gained independence with the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. The unit had special expertise in decommissioning weapons, and a Kazakh captain was killed last year while serving in Iraq.

Gen. Sembinov met with senior Pentagon officials to review the status of a five-year defense cooperation deal signed in 2003, one that has meant new equipment, training and contacts for the improving Kazakh forces. The general said the program has worked so well that talks are under way for a new bilateral security accord when the present agreement expires next year.

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