While a cease-fire has been declared in the 13-year war in Angola and Namibia, many roadblocks to peace are still in the way.
For one thing, it is a complicated situation. The confrontation in Angola involves three nations and two guerrilla armies, plus outside troops and weapons, and a large measure of ideological conflict.It takes a score card to figure out who is involved:
***Angola: A Marxist government rules in Angola, with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of backing from the Soviets in terms of aid and weapons. But anti-government rebels, backed by the U.S., have kept the country torn in civil war since Portugal gave up control of the colony in 1975. The economy is in shambles and the Russians are getting concerned about the cost to them.
***Cuba: Cuban troops have been stationed in Angola since 1975 to prop up the Marxist government and help fight the rebels. The cost in Cuban casualties has been significant. There are an estimated 50,000 Cubans currently in Angola.
***UNITA: The rebel organization fighting Angola's government controls much of the countryside and is backed by U.S.-supplied weapons, plus logistical and military support from South Africa.
***South Africa: Worried about a Marxist government near its borders, South Africa has fought intermittently in Angola in support of UNITA. But the cost has become too burdensome for South Africa. It has 3,000 troops in southern Angola and another 50,000 in nearby Namibia.
***Namibia: The former German colony of Southwest Africa was taken over by South Africa after World War I and is controlled by South Africa in defiance of a 22-year-old United Nations ruling. Most of Namibia's 1.3 million people are blacks.
***SWAPO: A Namibian rebel group that has fought South African occupation for more than 20 years, with very little success.
Under a deal worked out by the U.S., all the foreign troops would leave. The Cubans would leave Angola and the South Africans would pull out of Angola, and out of Namibia as well. With the South Africans gone, SWAPO would lay down its arms in Nambia and that country could get on with forming an independent government. The cease fire and removal of troops would be supervised by United Nations forces.
However, the rate of withdrawal remains a sticking point. South Africa wants everybody out within weeks, Cuba says a gradual withdrawal would take three or four years.
The Angolan government is fearful that with the Cubans gone, it might not be able to hold off UNITA. The civil war in Angola is not part of the peace package.
Yet if Cuba insists on taking years to remove its forces, the whole situation could become unraveled. Such a slow-motion withdrawal is almost the same as no withdrawal at all. Unless some agreement can be reached, the current "cessation of hostilities" could turn into fighting again.
In the meantime, U.S. diplomats deserve genuine appreciation from the world for finding a way to begin to resolve one of Africa's most complex and long-standing conflicts. It proves once again that patience pays.