The Angolan government recently affirmed its commitment to a multiparty system. This African nation has embarked on an ambitious program to liberalize its political and economic structures. It has agreed to hold nationwide elections in which independent candidates can run. It is pursuing direct talks with the South African- and U.S.-backed rebel group, UNITA. Unlike many of the U.S. allies in Africa, Angola is attempting to march down the road of democracy. Currently the United States is Angola's No. 1 trading partner. One would expect that our government would herald these developments and vigorously support the peace efforts initiated by the Angolan government.

Instead, our policy is to send lethal weapons to UNITA. The intelligence committees are due to vote soon on a request from the Bush administration to increase the estimated $80 million we already send to UNITA by $10 million to $15 million. Like all of the intelligence committee decisions, this vote will take place in secret with no debate about a policy that has left a nation torn by war.

The human cost of our policy in Angola is staggering: the country has the highest amputee rate in the world, and most of the amputees are women and children. More than 50,000 children are war orphans, and more than 800,000 civilians face starvation resulting from the combined effects of war and drought. Property damage from the war is estimated at more than $20 billion. Every four minutes, an Angolan child dies, which confers upon that country the world's highest infant mortality rate.

There is no sound logic or rationale for the Bush administration's policy toward the government of Angola. At a time when the administration is lauding and encouraging the unfolding of democratic processes in Eastern Europe, developing closer and cooperative relations with the Soviet Union and backing peace efforts in other areas of the world, the United States is doing everything to discourage and undermine peace and attempts toward democratization in Angola.

The House and Senate intelligence committees have repeatedly approved requests from the executive branch for aid to UNITA since the repeal of the Clark amendment in 1986. This time my colleagues in the House and Senate should reject the administration's request. This policy should be debated in the open and submitted to the scrutiny of the American people. I am sure that the public would reject this "secret" allocation of our tax dollars.

During the past year the government of Angola has made a number of important goodwill gestures toward the United States in an effort to improve bilateral relations, foster regional peace and end the brutal 16-year war. More than half of the 50,000 Cuban troops stationed in Angola have been sent home ahead of schedule by the government under the terms of a U.S.-brokered peace agreement among Angola, Cuba and South Africa. Soviet arms to Angola have been reduced. Privatization of the Angolan economy has been increased to encourage more U.S. and Western investment. The government has offered amnesty to UNITA and has agreed to allow UNITA members to run in elections. Thousands of UNITA and FNLA (another rebel movement formerly backed by the CIA) members have accepted the amnesty. Many now occupy high positions in government and industry.

But the Bush administration has not seized the initiative to build upon an enhanced opportunity for peace in Angola. Instead, we have escalated arms shipments to UNITA and have actively encouraged its leader, Jonas Savimbi, to scuttle a peace plan offered last year by Angola with the support of 18 African leaders and the Organization of African Unity.

This year the government attempted to hold direct peace talks with UNITA in Portugal. On June 18, just days after the talks started, the rebels walked out. The Angolan government is trying to negotiate a nationwide cease-fire and the process for the establishment of a multiparty system. So far, the rebels have refused to begin those negotiations.

The Angolan government is attempting to renew peace talks with UNITA this month. Shouldn't our government join this multinational effort for peace? Shouldn't we, UNITA's principal backer, encourage the rebel group to negotiate in earnest and not walk away from the negotiating table? To continue to send armaments only encourages intransigence, delays peace and augurs a dismal future for the war-weary people of Angola. The writer is a Democratic representative from California.