This rocket-shattered village on the desolate plains of northern Angola doesn't look like the front line of an ugly new kind of war in Africa.

Everything seems too dismally familiar. The abandoned mud huts. The government troops trudging down red-dirt savanna roads with looted furniture balanced on their heads. The filthy refugees with sunken eyes who watch them pass from the shade of mango trees.Squint, and Cangandala could be any African war zone within the last 50 years. Except for the stories of exhausted old men such as Paciencia Nyanga.

"When the soldiers chased us off our farm they said it was for our own safety, because of the guerrillas," said Nyanga, 60, a soba, or traditional village elder who led his family across 60 miles of wilderness to the relative safety of a refugee camp here. "But we know better. There were mines nearby. They were too close to us. We knew they were dangerous."

Nyanga wasn't referring Angola's lethal crop of 10 million land mines. He was talking about diamond mines, and here his woes, like the seemingly familiar wretchedness of Cangandala, symbolize a new and particularly venal chapter in the history of warfare on this continent.

In a conflict that every year seems less like a civil war and more like an exceedingly violent corporate takeover, government generals have seized Nyanga's land not because of his politics, tribal affiliation or religion, but simply to mine whatever gems might lie under the old man's cornfields. For years, UNITA rebels have been doing exactly the same thing, and the millions that both armies skim from such dirty business not only buys more tanks and ammunition, but perks such as private jets, luxury cars, vacations in Europe, fat overseas bank accounts and, for government officers at least, investments in tacky discos in the mildewed capital of Luanda.

More than just diamonds are at stake in this greedy free-for-all. Angola's war booty includes a vast pool of offshore oil, much of it pumped by American petroleum giants such as Chevron. That bonanza in turn feeds an even greater web of corruption and profiteering that entangles everyone from the political clique surrounding Angola's president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, to Slovakian arms dealers, South African pilots and Israeli radar manufacturers.

In effect, after 25 years of grinding combat and a pile of 500,000 dead, Angola has metamorphosed from an idealistic liberation war to a Cold War sideshow to a post-modern killing field. Stripped of nationalism or ideology, the fighting here today is little more than armed capitalism.

"It's one of the continent's new commercial wars," said Simon Taylor, an analyst with Global Witness, a London-based human-rights watchdog. "The government and UNITA wrap themselves in democracy, freedom and human rights, but they're just lining their pockets.

"When you think about it, what's happening in Angola isn't so much a new war as a very old one," Taylor added.

"We're actually regressing back to a colonial-style scramble for Africa's natural resources. Only now it's the multinational conglomerates and local political elites who are cashing in."

More traditional forms of mass bloodletting haven't entirely vanished from Africa, where 11 wars are simmering. Thousands of Tutsis and Hutus, for example, still are being hacked or shot to death in the grim ethnic strife tormenting Burundi and Rwanda. Religious antagonism between Muslims and Christians plays a toxic part in the civil war in Sudan. In Africa's parched Horn, neighbors Eritrea and Ethiopia have waged a bizarre territorial conflict over a patch of worthless desert.

But the troubling rise of apolitical, money-driven wars in Africa is hard to ignore in the continent's most recent hot spots. In Sierra Leone's revolution by amputation, diamonds are again at the core of the fighting. Oil wealth drives the ongoing unrest in the Republic of Congo. In Congo, formerly Zaire, by far Africa's most explosive conflict, six different nations are mired in an ideology-free combat where the stakes boil down to access to natural resources as diverse as gold, timber, diamonds and coffee.

When it come to killing for profit, however, Angola remains in a class by itself.

After achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola's fractured liberation movement was quickly hijacked by the Cold War machinations of East and West. The former Soviet Union supported the leftist MPLA government of dos Santos, while the rebel UNITA movement, led by the veteran guerrilla Jonas Savimbi, received millions in armaments from the CIA and the old white-supremacist regime in South Africa.

Unfortunately, since the fall of Berlin Wall, extinguishing the flames of the bloody if forgotten war in Angola's savannas and deserts has proven far more difficult than fanning them.

UNITA's Savimbi, a die-hard opportunist, seems willing to spill blood until he is crowned Angola's supremo. After stubbornly sabotaging every peace effort sponsored by the United Nations over the last decade, including a 1992 election that he lost, the onetime hero of the Reagan administration has become an international pariah. The West now backs former leftist dos Santos, whose newly found enthusiasm for free markets has earned him a reputation as one of the most corrupt presidents in Africa.

What all this means for 11 million ordinary Angolans is a rudderless war with no end in sight, a conflict that has reduced three quarters of the population to slat-ribbed poverty.

Luanda, a once-charming coastal city of red-tiled roofs, boasted 3,000 members in its yacht club during colonial times. Today, about the only vessels plying its harbor are cargo ships carrying UN corn for some 1.2 million war refugees.

Thousands of unemployed youths hawk Portuguese wine, wild parrots, toilet seats and condoms in Luanda's streets.