Angola: IRIN Background Brief, 9/25/97

Angola: IRIN Background Brief, 9/25/97


Department of Humanitarian Affairs

Integrated Regional Information Network

for the Great Lakes

Tel: +254 2 622147

Fax: +254 2 622129



25 September 1997

On 28 August 1997, the UN Security Council threatened new sanctions against the former Angolan rebel group UNITA (Uniao Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola), accusing it of non-compliance with peace deals. The 1994 Lusaka peace accord* between UNITA and the Angolan government provided for the demilitarisation of the former rebel movement, a step which the UN and international observers strongly believe has not been carried out. As a result the threat of all-out civil war once again looms over Angola and military tension is at its highest since the signing of the agreements.

The conflict between the two sides dates back to 1975 when the country gained independence from Portugal. At the time, three main groups had emerged with different backers. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was supported by the-then USSR, Cuba and eastern European countries, while two other groups - the Angolan National Liberation Front (FNLA) and UNITA were backed primarily by the USA, the West and South Africa. The MPLA, which controlled Luanda, formed the post-independence government and has been locked in combat with UNITA ever since.

UN sanctions deadline approaches

The UN's sanctions against UNITA will come into effect at the end of September unless Secretary-General Kofi Annan is satisfied the movement has honoured its obligations under the Lusaka accord.. Last month, Annan warned that the Angolan peace process "is experiencing some of the most serious difficulties since the signing of the Lusaka Protocol", pinning the blame squarely on UNITA. In addition to UNITA's demilitarisation, the peace deal calls for the restoration of state administration throughout the country, the conversion of UNITA radio into a non-partisan station and the transformation of UNITA itself into a true political party.

The sanctions threat, including an air and travel embargo against UNITA and closure of its offices abroad, has served to reinforce the government's position, possibly paving the way for a major offensive against UNITA positions. In May, renewed fighting broke out in volatile northern parts of Angola, triggered by the fall of former Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko, a strong ally of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi. The government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, whose troops played a part in DRC leader Laurent-Desire Kabila's victory, sent soldiers into the diamond-rich Lunda Norte province ostensibly to counter border incursions from southeastern Zaire by UNITA and ex-Zairean soldiers. However the fighting developed into government attacks against UNITA-held territory in Lunda Norte, which then spread to other regions and caused the displacement of thousands of people, including refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Coming in the wake of the fall of Kinshasa to Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), the Angolan government offensive was allowed to go ahead with relative impunity, and the UN came under criticism for not reacting strongly enough. For its part, the Angolan government appears to have lost patience with UNITA's reluctance to abide by the Lusaka accord. By fighting alongside ADFL troops in DRC, it was able to wipe out UNITA bases in the former-Zaire and now seems poised to do the same on its own territory.

Possible extension of UN mission

As a result of increased tension in Angola, the new scaled-down UN observer mission MONUA which replaced its predecessor UNAVEM-III** in June, will not be downsized until November. Observers note however that in view of the current situation, its mandate will probably be extended. The month's grace period before sanctions are imposed has led to fears UNITA may try to reorganise itself militarily. The organisation has warned that the imposition of sanctions could have negative consequences, saying it would be "prejudicial" to the peace process. In a recent interview, Savimbi threatened to back out of the Lusaka accord if the UN went ahead with sanctions.

Reports of UNITA regrouping

A government of national unity, created in April as a result of the Lusaka accord, is in disarray. Savimbi, who was officially accorded the title of main opposition leader and granted various privileges, claims to be too afraid to enter the capital Luanda and dos Santos refuses to hold face to face talks outside Angolan territory. Regional analysts say it is widely believed that, far from demobilising, UNITA still has some 30,000-35,000 fighting troops. According to the publication 'Africa Analysis', UNITA is importing up to 40 plane-loads of petroleum and other supplies per week, despite an earlier international embargo on fuel and armament sales to the ex-rebels. Various transit points have been suggested - Zambia, Pointe-Noire in Congo (Brazzaville) and South Africa, although Pretoria has denied the allegations.

Humanitarian sources say cases of forced recruitment have been ascertained in UNITA-controlled territory in areas such as Bailundo, Moxico and Lunda Norte. The same sources stress such activity "casts doubt on UNITA's commitment to peace". A report by the Secretary-General also points out that new mines have been planted in UNITA territory, at a time when demining activities are underway to try and eradicate some of the devastating effects of the 19-year civil war. Sources note that demining is restricted to seven of Angola's 18 provinces, and only eight percent of the 1,532 minefields identified have been cleared.

Government making military preparations, international concern The Angolan government is using the current tide of anti-UNITA sentiment to strengthen its hand and gain support for possible military action. Recent media reports claim the Angolan government has been receiving shipments of weapons and aircraft from eastern Europe. Local sources say arms and soldiers are being moved to defend strategic towns such as Huambo (the former UNITA stronghold), Uige and Malanje. The stage is set for military confrontation.

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM), which is implementing the demobilisation assistance programme for UNITA, in a recent report drew attention to donor concerns over the "remobilisation" of demobilised soldiers. News reports allege one third of some 78,000 UNITA fighters*** who registered for demobilisation have "disappeared". About 10,900 have been incorporated into the Angolan Armed Forces and some 30,000 have already been demobilised, according to figures released last month. Even more problematic is the dembolisation of Savimbi's presidential guard, who will not be quartered but disarmed in situ, entailing a more active role by MONUA. Figures for the number of presidential guardsmen vary from 6,000 according to UNITA to 35,000 according to the Angolan government. The UN puts the figure around 25,000. IOM, whose funds and resources have been severely squeezed, points out that while there are no guarantees against remobilisation, the humanitarian assistance offered to ex-combatants is aimed at encouraging their reintegration into civilian life. The programme provides a viable alternative to a re-emerging UNITA military structure. With the planned withdrawal of MONUA at the end of October, IOM stresses it is imperative to complete demobilisation by November or risk compromising security still further.

The UN was sufficiently alarmed by the threat of war resuming to consider an evacuation of international staff from Angola earlier this month. Strong opposition on the part of the humanitarian community forced a rethink, but the move demonstrates the gravity of the situation. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) - of which Angola is a member - at a summit earlier this month added its voice to warnings the country was sliding towards renewed civil war.

The oil-rich enclave of Cabinda, sandwiched between the troubled nations of Congo (Brazzaville) and the DRC, poses further problems to the stability of Angola. Already the scene of fighting between government soldiers and three secessionist groups, it has also served as a launching pad for rebels of the two countries that surround it. In addition to a reported 20,000 Angolan forces stationed there, UNITA is also said to have transported troops and equipment through the former Zaire to Miconje in northern Cabinda.

Millions of people at risk, renewed threat of regional instability

Regional analysts point out that Angola currently appears to be in a state of limbo and large-scale war is unlikely to resume in the immediate future due to the onset of the rainy season. Since the UN sanctions threat, tension is said to have eased slightly and more UNITA troops have apparently come forward for demobilisation. However, UNITA has frequently been accused of playing for time by complying with requests at the last minute. Its true intentions will be gauged to some extent next month, by which time the movement is due to have handed over four key areas under its control to state administration - namely Negage (HQ of UNITA vice-president), Cuango-Luzamba (UNITA's main diamond centre and source of much of its funding), Bailundo (UNITA HQ) and Andulo (home area of Savimbi).

There is a dangerous precedent to attempts to demobilise UNITA. Tens of thousands of people died after a previous peace agreement signed in 1991 floundered the following year as demobilised UNITA soldiers again took up arms to protest the results of presidential and parliamentary elections. While Savimbi was engaged in talks with the government and UN, his forces remained on the offensive. By the end of November 1992, UNITA was reportedly in control of two-thirds of the country and the government had launched counter-offensives.

The humanitarian implications of the resumption of war are enormous in a country where already 3.3 million Angolans can be classified as displaced or war-affected. Because of the uncertain political situation, UN and aid agencies are reluctant to pour all their resources into rehabilitation programmes for fear of being caught short in the face of a potentially huge emergency. Therefore such programmes have been dramatically scaled down and contingency planning is already underway, especially with regard to vulnerable people in UNITA-controlled territory. And war in Angola will inevitably have widespread repercussions as the conflict spills over the borders into already unstable countries.


* The Lusaka Protocol was signed on 20 November 1994 between the government of Angola and the UNITA movement. Provisions of the comprehensive peace deal included a ceasefire, the quartering and demobilisation of UNITA troops, the formation of a unified national army, UNITA's participation in a government of national unity and the gradual handover of UNITA territory to state administration.

** A 7,500-member UN peacekeeping force, known as UNAVEM-III (UN Angola Verification Mission) was set up on 9 February 1995 to help monitor compliance with the Lusaka accord. Its mandate expired on 30 June 1997, when it was replaced by the scaled-down UN Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA).

*** In addition to the demobilised soldiers, IOM has assisted some 60,000 dependants to date. Sources, including: Oxford Analytica, Africa South of the Sahara, Angola Peace Monitor, USAID reports, IOM reports, UN UCAH-Angola


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Date: Thu, 25 Sep 1997 14:47:46 -0300 (GMT+3) From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Angola: IRIN Background Brief 25 Sep 1997 97.9.25 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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