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U.N. sanctions on Angola only good on paper

In the panhandle of northeastern Namibia where five nations converge, U.N. trade sanctions are supposed to keep the border with Angola mostly closed.

But to Matues Kangala, a 17-year-old with pimply skin and a penchant for smuggling diamonds, the slow-flowing Okavango River frontier offers opportunity spiced with danger.Namibian soldiers shoot quickly along the 150-mile stretch of border formed by the river, with at least 200 people believed killed since the section supposedly closed in September 1994.

So Kangala keeps watch on the soldiers, who are his neighbors in Andara Mission, a community of 300 people.

"I know where they like to go," he said with a smile. "When they go to that side (of town), I come across to this side, and when they come here, I go to the other side. It's no problem."

Kangala's ease in illegally trading Angolan diamonds shows the dif-fi-culty of putting in practice a policy decided halfway around the world in the conference rooms of the United Nations.

The purpose of the sanctions was to isolate Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known as UNITA. Without its traditional supply routes, UNITA was supposed to weaken and end the civil war fought since Angolan independence from Portugal in 1975.

Two months after the sanctions banning the sale of weapons and fuel to UNITA were announced, UNITA signed a peace treaty with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' government in 1994 that halted the fighting.

But more than three years later, U.N. officials are still waiting for Savimbi and UNITA to fully comply with the peace treaty.

Further sanctions, limiting travel and freezing accounts of UNITA officials, were imposed late last year. Now Savimbi and UNITA say they are ready to fully integrate their fighters in the Angolan military and participate in government structures throughout the country. That could mean Savimbi going to Angola's capital soon for the first time in almost six years to meet with dos Santos.

Whether that means the conflict is finally ending remains unclear. Savimbi has failed to keep similar promises in the past.

Savimbi has lost crucial regional allies like former Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Republic of Congo President Pascal Lissouba, both of whom were ousted by rebels last year with the Angolan government's help.

But the inability to halt smuggling along Angola's remote borders, including the river stretch in northeastern Namibia, means UNITA can likely continue to get some supplies.

Near Andara Mission, smuggling occurs at night, with fuel and other goods carried across the shallow, 250-yard-wide river on shoulders or in dugout canoes, local people say.

And the lack of an effective radar system in the area means An-to-nov 24 airplanes, relics of the Angolan war that pitted Soviet-backed government forces against U.S.- and South African-backed UNITA fighters, can fly for the highest bidder.

One pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity, likened violating Angola airspace to stealing fruit from a neighbor's tree - a low-risk maneuver.

But not all get through. A private South African plane carrying mining supplies to a UNITA area was forced to land and detained by the Angolan government in late January.

Acting under the U.N. sanctions, Namibia's president, Sam Nujoma, ordered his troops in 1994 to close most of his country's colonial-era border with Angola, which divides tribally homogeneous people.

He quickly found himself in a political corner - pressured by the Angolan government to help squeeze UNITA and threatened by UNITA to stay out of Angola's affairs.

Allowing UNITA unfettered access to supplies could anger Angola enough to have its troops cross the border when pursuing smugglers.

UNITA, on the other side, warns Namibia against siding with dos Santos.

"It will be very, very dangerous for the Namibian government to get involved," said Domingues Shikunda, UNITA's top official in Namibia.

He refused to elaborate. But strategic Namibian installations in the border region, such as two hydroelectric dams, could easily be sabotaged by UNITA.