Palm fronds rustle in the breeze and a bird trills, the only sounds in this Angolan hamlet after residents fled during combat between UNITA rebels and government troops.

Two days after the firefight that killed two government soldiers, spent bullet cartridges and a live grenade litter the ground. The adobe walls of the huts are singed, their thatched roofs charred. Scattered possessions - a cooking pot, a chipped enamel wash basin - are evidence of hasty departures.The clash in northeast Angola's Lunda Sul province is part of a low-level bush war that ignited in June after UNITA and the government accused each other of violating a 1994 U.N.-brokered peace agreement.

It threatens to escalate into all-out war, like the conflict before it that killed a half-million people and left the country in ruins.

Since June, hundreds of people have died in ambushes and massacres. U.N. helicopters have been shot at. Relief workers have abandoned half the country's 18 provinces, some fleeing under fire.

Both sides are conscripting youths into their forces, witnesses and human rights workers say.

Land mines are again being laid in a country that has more in its soil - estimates range from 9 million to 20 million - than any country except Afghanistan.

Prospects for reversing the downward spiral are growing slimmer.

The number of U.N. peacekeepers has shrunk from 7,000 in 1995 to 700. Their mandate expires Sept. 15, and patience is wearing thin.

"Unless the two sides want to help themselves, we can't do anything. We are not peace enforcers," said Indian Col. K.T. Parnaik, chief of staff of the U.N. military observer mission.