The short, stocky prison guard grunted as he dragged away the heavy logs covering the narrow hole. Then he lowered a ladder made of saplings into the hole and barked an order for one of the two prisoners to come up.

"Lioliya, get up here," the guard shouted. A few seconds later, Vasco (Lioliya) Chinguar, 29, former guerrilla captain, unsuccessful assassin, Portuguese army scout and secret-police informer, weakly climbed up out of he 15-foot-deep hole he had been imprisoned in for almost a month.

He eyes blinked several times as they adjusted to the bright light, and then he nedded at me in recognition. Chinguar extended his right hand to shake mine and the guard knocked it down with his short black rubber runcheon. "None of that," said the guard brusquely.

Vasco Chinguar is the only man I have met on all three of my trips to Angola.

I first met him as a guerrilla captain in UNITA in the summer of 1973. He was ten fighting the Portuguese colonialists and I was traveling with the guerillas at their invitation, to get their side of the story.

In the summer of 1974, I returned to Angola on the Portuguese side at the invitation of the Armed Forces Movement, which had ovethrown Portugal's political dictatorship the previous April. I met Chinguar working as a scout for the Portuguese army's intelligence unit, locating UNITA guerilla bases for them to destroy.

On this last trip, he was in one of the UNITA guerrillas' forest prisons after being captured in Huambo while working for the newly independent Angolan government's secret police. When I interviewed him at the end of February there was a heated debate going on among the UNITA guerrillas about whether he should be executed.

There are men like Chinguar in every war: Seemingly a political, they can switch sides just as quickly as they perceive a change in the tide of battle. Chinguar, who has been involved inthe fighting in Angola from the period of anti-Portuguese guerrilla warfare in the 1960s to the civil war that divides the newly independent country today, has been on three sides.

Eleven years ago, when he was 18, Chinguar was kidnaped and forced to join UNITA while on a fishing trip in eastern Angola. UNITA was then fighting the Portuguese.

Two years later, in 1968, Chinguar tried to assassinate UNITA's guerrilla leader, Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, while they were hiding in a patch of forest from a Portuguese army patrol.

"I tried to kill Savimbi with three shots," Chinguar said, "but at that time I was poorly prepared politically, we had been attacked that day by the Portuguese and I thought that Savimbi was making us die and suffer in the bush for nothing. Later I was taught we were fighting for our free.

Savimbi forgave him, Chinguar said, and told him he was a product of Portuguese colonialism.Given lengthy lectures on African nationalism, he proved an ardent student and, by 1973, rose to the rank of captain, then one of the highest ranks within UNITA.

On Nov. 2, 1973, however, Chinguar ran away from the UNITA areas and presented himself to the Portuguese colonial administrators in Luso. "I was fed up and tied of life in the bush," he said. "It was too hard, and many of us were being killed by the Portuguese."

The Portuguese used him, he said, "to go around in the forest and find out where the UNITA bases were. Then they would launch an offensive. No, I didn't care. They told me that UNITA people were bandits and terrorists and I was doing the right thing."

He also worked as a bartender for the Portuguese soldiers.

After the Portuguese agreed to grand Angola its independence, Chinguar returned to Huambo, his hometown, where he opened a food shop with money his father lent him, he said.

"All [three] liberation movements were holding daily rallies in Huambo," Chinguar continued.

"I used to attend the UNITA rallies, but I didn't join," Chinguar said, "I was ashamed. I had failed as a revolutionary."

After the Popular Movement won the opening rounds of the civil war, Chinguar joined that movement. "I was a member . . . so I could get things for my shop. It was very difficult to get food because there was only enough food for the government and Cuban soldiers."

"I never told them I had been a member of UNITA because I was afraid I would have been killed," he said. In August 1976 he began to work for the Popular Movement's secret police. "I did it to protect myself. I didn't want the soldiers to come to my shop and take things."

Three men he knew from his days as a guerrilla were working in Huambo as clandestine UNITA saboteurs. "I turned them in to the police," he said. "Two of them were later released and one of them was never heard form again."

In September, the Popular Movement soldiers came to his shop and at gunpoint took his car, $750 in cash and all his merchandise, he said. He then moved to Santo Armaro, a small town six miles east of Huambo, and opened a new shop. Periodically, he said, he would go into Huambo to buy things for this shop.

On his last trip to Huambo, he was captured by armed UNITA guerrillas. "I was staying at a friend's house in Chiva," a slum area on the eastern outskirts of Huambo, he said. "I was Jan. 19. About 10 p.m., the UNITA guerrillas knocked on the door and called me out. I didn't try to run. I knew why they had come."

"There were eight of them," he recalled. "They said I was an mbofo (informer), tied my hands behind me and walked me out of the city," Chinguar said. Twelve days later, traveling by foot, Chinguar arrived at the prison in th forrst of southern Bie Province.

"Savimbi told me I will be excused," Chinguar said. "I will now try to correct my mistakes and work hard for the party, if they will let me."

As Chinguar climbed back down into the hole, my interpreter, guerrilla private George Pinto Chikoti, turned to me and said. "This man has no consciousness. He is dangerous and should be shot."

"Savimbi said he should be forgiven, but we soldiers are against it," Chikoti continued, "I can understand him making two mistakes, but after that it is not easy to forgive."