Angola Turmoil Lands on Clinton's Plate Renewed Fighting throughout Country Presents a Challenge for Africa Policy. AFRICA STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY

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THE bitter conflict on the ground in Angola and growing diplomatic concerns present President Clinton with another immediate foreign policy challenge in dealing with the legacy of the cold-war era.

"The ending of the cold war does re-orient things," says Chester Crocker, a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs who initiated a complex regional settlement process in Angola.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos made an appeal to Clinton Jan. 25 in a letter to the new US president and in a Monitor interview. He argued that, as the sponsors of the rebel movement during the 16-year civil war, the US has a special responsibility to recognize the democratically elected government in Luanda.

Mr. dos Santos said that, as one of the three guarantors of the peace process, the US should distance itself from the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) - whose tactics include the kidnapping of foreign nationals and the destruction of economic targets.

"To maintain a position which does not recognize Angola, is to favor UNITA," Dos Santos told the Monitor.

"We are giving serious consideration to the question of recognition," the US State Department said in a statement Jan. 25. International opinion

In the past two weeks, the tide of international opinion has been turning against UNITA and in favor of the MPLA.

"The urgency of the Angolan challenge is underscored by the fact that the two parties to the peace process are locked in a bitter, undeclared war which could cost tens of thousands of lives and drag on for years if the international community washes its hands of Angola," a Western diplomat in South Africa says.

"Given the presence of US oil interests in the northern enclave of Cabinda, Angola could end up as an even greater problem than Somalia five years down the line."

Angolan officials argue that the US shares blame for the inadequate manpower and resources of the United Nations mission in Angola and the fact that it failed to ensure UNITA's demobilization.

UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has recommended that a scaled-down UN monitoring group should quit Angola by the end of April if the government forces and UNITA rebels have not resumed negotiations. The UN was expected to begin a round of discussions Jan. 26 on its UN presence in Angola.

Western diplomats in Luanda say a cease-fire will top the agenda at talks between MPLA and UNITA military leaders scheduled to take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 27. They add that the MPLA has backed down on its refusal to discuss political issues - apparently because of UNITA's military advances. …