Good Signs in Angola

A mediated settlement of the stalemated 12-year-old guerrilla war in Angola has been proposed by the leaders of three African nations, and the principal guerrilla leader has indicated his willingness to join the talks. That is encouraging.

It is encouraging from two points of view: The war has been devastating, particularly in the terrible toll that it has exacted from the impoverished civilian population. But the war also has been used to postpone independence for neighboring Namibia, the last of the African colonies, and peace would clear the way to implement the longstanding Namibia independence agreement negotiated through the United Nations.

The peace proposal that was put together by Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria may not be easy for the government of Angola to accept, for implicit in the plan are direct negotiations with the UNITA rebel forces that are led by Jonas Savimbi. Beyond that, a political role for Savimbi would almost certainly follow. Furthermore, the peace plan would require, in one way or another, the withdrawal of the 37,000 Cuban troops who now are crucial to the security of the Angola government.

Angola's intentions will be tested this month by Chester Crocker, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, who will be resuming negotiations with the government in Luanda. In anticipation of that meeting, the Angolans already have softened their position on the withdrawal of Cuban troops--proposing a two-year phased reduction, contrasting with an earlier three-year proposal.

South Africa has made the withdrawal of the Cubans a prerequisite for extending independence to Namibia. Crocker's task will be to construct an agreement that would phase out the Cubans in Angola even as it phases in independence in Namibia, ending South Africa's control of the former German colony. That would be a major foreign-policy achievement for President Reagan's final year in office, compensating in some measure for the failed policy of constructive engagement with South Africa.

"We don't want our country to become a killing ground, a place for everyone to try their guns and play out their ambitions," Savimbi has said. That is right. Luanda has nothing to lose in testing his sincerity.

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