Despite his angry protests of election fraud, Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi realizes he cannot possibly resume the 16-year-long civil war that shattered the southwest African country, the Bush Administration's top Africa expert said Thursday.
"I've had private assurances from some senior associates of Dr. Savimbi in the last day that they will abide by" the election results, Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen told the House Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa.
His assurances were given despite the fact that Savimbi, holed up in a highland stronghold, has vowed never to accept defeat in the country's first free election. Savimbi's retreat to Huambo, more than 300 miles southeast of the capital, Luanda, caused jitters that his Union for the Total Independence of Angola--known as UNITA by its initials in Portuguese--might resume guerrilla warfare against the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
But Cohen said Savimbi and his movement realize it would get "absolutely no support" from the international community or the Angolan public for renewed hostilities. The United States and South Africa, which bankrolled UNITA's insurgency, are strongly opposed to resuming the conflict and would not pay for it, Cohen said.
Although final results have not been announced, Savimbi is trailing Dos Santos in the painfully slow count of ballots from last week's presidential election. Dos Santos, head of the formerly Marxist Popular Movement for the Independence of Angola (MPLA), is the incumbent president, although the United States has never recognized his government.
Cohen said Savimbi's claims of election fraud must be thoroughly investigated by the Angolan election commission and U.N. observers. The United States will accept the results, he said, if the United Nations determines the election was free and fair. "Upon certification of the elections, we will formally recognize the newly elected government and establish full diplomatic relations," Cohen said.
If that occurs, he said, Savimbi should accept the results and play a constructive role, either as a member of a coalition government or as leader of a peaceful, loyal opposition. "The talents and energies of both (Savimbi and Dos Santos), irrespective of their formal capacity, will be crucial to the development of Angola's considerable potential and to its genuine national reconciliation," Cohen said.
UNITA officials would not explain why Savimbi had gone to Huambo, where the movement commands much rural support, Reuters news agency reported from Luanda. The wire service said diplomats in Angola were less confident than Cohen that Savimbi will eventually accept the election result.