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Savimbi Agrees to Return to Talks on Angolan Peace

Times Staff Writer

Jonas Savimbi, the leader of rebels trying to overthrow the Marxist government of Angola, agreed Thursday to return to negotiations intended to end a 14-year civil war in the southern African nation.

Savimbi’s promise came after prodding from President Bush, who rewarded Savimbi by issuing statements of continued U.S. support for the rebel movement. The Angolan peace effort is directed by President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.

Conservatives in this country have kept up pressure on successive U.S. administrations to maintain assistance to the anti-Marxist rebels. Most recently, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, complained that Mobutu cut off supply links that pass through Zaire to Savimbi’s forces, the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

In a written statement, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said that the President used his 30-minute meeting with Savimbi “to stress the United States’ continued support for UNITA and the goal of national reconciliation in Angola.”

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However, the statement noted, Bush also urged Savimbi “to work with President Mobutu and others in the region to foster the peace process.”

Fitzwater said that Bush reminded Savimbi of the United States’ “longstanding support for a cease-fire and face-to-face negotiations and, ultimately, free and fair elections” in Angola.

A cease-fire between Savimbi’s forces and the army of the Angolan government, led by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, was reached June 22. But it began to falter two months later.

After his meeting in the Oval Office, Savimbi said that he was “reassured by the President of the continued support of the United States to UNITA.”

And, he said, “we accepted . . . that President Mobutu is the mediator” of talks between the rebel movement and the Angolan government.

Asked whether he was ready to return to cease-fire talks, he replied, “Absolutely.”

Savimbi had balked at attending a recent round of peace talks intended to smooth out differences over the interpretation of the June 22 agreement. Savimbi has implicitly accused Mobutu of concluding secret deals with Angola to change the terms of the agreement.

Dos Santos has argued that under the agreement, Savimbi was to step down from his leadership of UNITA and integrate his forces with those of the Angolan military. Savimbi has denied such an interpretation.

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Bush met with Mobutu on Wednesday, urging him to “work out any differences” to meet “the goal of national reconciliation,” Fitzwater said.

“Mobutu has been very constructive in serving as a mediator. . . . We want that to continue,” Fitzwater said.


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