Thousands flee UNITA all-out assault
Nearly a hundred thousand people have
fled their homes in recent days to the town of Cuito, Bie province, in
the face of an all-out assault by the rebel movement UNITA. Reports
have emerged that around one hundred civilians were killed on 16 December
in an attack by UNITA on a disused railway station in Kunje, close to Cuito.
By 14 December UNITA had surrounded Cuito,
where thousands of civilians waited at the airport in the hope of securing
a flight out of town. Three hundred children were evacuated to Luanda
in several private aircraft, before the operation was halted. The
AFP news agency reported that the airport was closed following the shooting
down of a private Antanov transport aeroplane leased by the government,
which had just left Cuito after unloading relief aid. The five crew
members and a further five passengers were killed.
A nurse at Cuito hospital said that dozens
of injured people were being admitted into the hospital, including civilians
For some time the town was besieged,
with all road and air links cut. However, by 17 December it was reported
that the airport had been reopened and that calm had returned to the town
following a government counter-offensive. The Commander of the government’s
army in Bie province, Siminone Mukuni, told Angolan radio that 63 rebels
had been killed on 17 December, including many Rwandans, “Banyamulenges”
and white mercenaries. The Angolan army state that they destroyed
seven UNITA tanks in the counter-offensive.
UNITA has admitted that it has been laying
minefields in Bie province. A statement from the organisation said
that on 16 December ten of its soldiers, including Lt Col Joao Chiwisi,
were killed and 25 wounded by mines “due to an error of coordination”.
A source in the Angolan Ministry of Defence
stated that the UNITA assault on Cuito and nearby Kunje was halted after
a UNITA convoy carrying fuel and other logistics was destroyed in an attack
by the Angolan airforce. The source also claimed that fuel depots
in Adulo and Bailundo were destroyed in another air strike.
The World Food Programme has 1,000 tonnes
of food aid in its warehouse in Cuito, and supplies for December had been
distributed prior to the siege. However, distribution may prove difficult
as the UN decided on 13 December to withdraw sixty humanitarian staff and
their families from Cuito. The UN has stated that there is enough
food and medicine in stock for two months at the present rate of consumption.
British aid agencies have made an urgent appeal to the British government
to make resources available to stop the military crisis becoming a humanitarian
Several strategic towns around Cuito
have been seized by UNITA troops, with the towns Catabola, Camacupa and
Cuanza situated on the main highway east of Cuito. On the highway
west of Cuito, Chinguar was seized by UNITA forces. Huambo under
Further along the highway to the west
is the major town of Huambo, another key target for UNITA forces. 25,000
civilians have fled to Huambo seeking safe haven. The situation is
so dangerous that the UN on 13 December decided to withdraw 111 staff,
leaving only 25 international emergency personnel and a few further local
aid workers in the town.
The UN has also withdrawn its staff from
the town of Luena, to the east in Moxico province, on the same highway.
The attacks on Cuito reminded Angolans
of the horrors of the 1993/94 siege of Cuito in which 30,000 people died.
The siege of Huambo led to the deaths of an estimated 10,000. Aid
agencies have warned that Cuito’s place in Angolan history raises the fear
that if UNITA took control it would result in the very widespread murder
of the population.
Reports of air strikes
The other area of reported conflict is
around the former headquarters of UNITA, in Andulo and Bailundo.
UNITA Secretary General Paulo Gato had
claimed on 1 December that the government had launched an air raid on Bailundo.
However, four UN observers had been held virtual prisoners in Bailundo
by UNITA (see APM no.3, vol.V) until they were finally released on 6 December.
These observers reported that there had been no bombing of the town.
The London-based journal, SouthScan,
reported that UNITA was claiming that a government offensive on Andulo
and Bailundo on 5 December was reversed.
The government has flown reinforcements
to Huambo and Cuito who had previously been stationed in the Democratic
Republic of Congo, where they had been supporting President Laurent Kabila.
The situation in the Central Highlands
is building up to conventional warfare, with relatively static positions.
Military theory generally holds that in such cases the side with
air superiority should defeat their opponents. However, UNITA have
modern anti-aircraft weapons (perhaps including the US-made Stinger system)
and the season’s heavy rain can work in its favour.
Military analysts in Luanda predict that
the conflict in the Central Highlands will be a long drawn-out affair.
This is likely to lead to a humanitarian disaster for civilians situated
in besieged towns, reminiscent of previous sieges.
Government forces regrouping
The Angolan government’s army, FAA, is
regrouping and reinforcing following the major UNITA offensive against
it in the Central Highlands.
Military analysts have stated that UNITA
had executed a carefully laid plan to seize control of strategic locations.
UNITA had surprised some with their use of tanks, assault vehicles
and long-range artillery. Sources suggest that FAA was also surprised
at the huge concentration of UNITA forces in the area.
FAA Chief of Staff, General Joao de Matos,
said on 12 December that “UNITA is better equipped than ever before”.
The General accused the United Nations of adopting a passive attitude,
although its mission had been to disarm UNITA.
UN ponders future role
The escalation in the conflict has led
the United Nations to reassess its role in Angola. On 17 December
the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that “The United Nations
will soon have to decide whether it can still play a useful peacekeeping
role in the present rapidly diminishing security and political space”.
Informal discussions among members of
the Security Council were due to take place in New York on 17 December,
with a view to releasing a Presidential Statement on Angola. However,
the bombing of Iraq was likely to cause delay. Pressure is mounting
on the Security Council to meet again to discuss the crisis. A Security
Council review is likely not only because of the escalating conflict, but
also statements made by Angolan government ministers questioning the continued
presence of MONUA.
Territorial Administration Minister,
Faustino Muteka, stated on Angolan television that “MONUA is no longer
doing anything here. It only complicates things. I am saying
that as an Angolan official. Twice MONUA failed to check things,
and later on admitted that UNITA was still armed. I signed thousands
of protest notes to MONUA informing it that UNITA was not demobilising
soldiers; that weapons being handed over were obsolete; that UNITA was
training forces in specific areas; and that UNITA was receiving weapons
in various areas. We mentioned this in those notes. Yet, MONUA
never investigated the situation. We must ask MONUA why has it never
gone to those areas and checked what the government was reporting?”
Sympathy with this view was expressed
by a diplomat close to the peace process in the International Herald Tribune
on 16 December. The unnamed diplomat “said that the current
fighting proved the futility of a reconciliation effort in which the UN,
the United States, Portugal and Russia … too often looked the other
way and accepted UNITA’s talk of peace even as the rebels were unmistakably
preparing for war”.
The diplomat continued that “we
all know it was wrong, we all knew that arms were coming in and nobody
tried to stop it”. The article quotes a US official saying of
Savimbi “he’s got ambition, he’s got ego, he’s got money, and he’s
MONUA mandate extended
The UN Security Council met on 3 December
and adopted Resolution 1213, which gave the go-ahead to extend the UN Observer
Mission in Angola (MONUA) until 26 February.
In the resolution, the Security Council
condemned Jonas Savimbi for ignoring letters sent to him on 6 October by
the UN’s Special Representative in Angola, and on 24 September by the Foreign
Ministers of the three Observer States to the Lusaka Protocol.
It is understood that an attempt to have
Jonas Savimbi specifically named as the major obstacle to peace, as British
ministers have recently done, was vetoed by the United States. The
final resolution emphasised that “the primary cause of the crisis
in Angola and of the current impasse in the peace process is the failure
by the leadership of UNITA in Bailundo to comply with its obligations”.
In a significant move the resolution
noted the “importance of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General
maintaining contact with all elements of UNITA in Luanda [our emphasis]
in order to revive the stalled peace process and encourage the transformation
of UNITA into a genuine political party”. This is a signal that
the Special Representative may focus efforts on contacts with UNITA-Renovada
and the UNITA leadership around Abel Chivukuvuku rather than with Jonas
The Security Council warned that it was
ready to consider imposing further sanctions against UNITA, and called
on the Secretary General to report on ways of improving the implementation
of sanctions already in place.
On 3 December the Angolan government
issued a communique which stated that it “cannot understand the UN’s
passive attitude, especially when similar situations in other parts of
the world, namely Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia have warranted sterner measures
by both the United Nations and the international community”.
MPLA chooses new Secretary General
The leading political party in Angola,
the MPLA, has removed three senior figures from its Central Committee following
a congress in Luanda.
The week-long congress began on 5 December,
and in a secret ballot on 9 December MPLA Secretary General Lopo do Nascimento,
former Prime Minister Marcolino Moco and current Prime Minister Fernando
Franca Van Dunem, were removed from a Central Committee which had been
expanded from 158 to 251 members.
Also dropped were the provincial governors
of Lunda Sul, Goncalves Muandumba, and Alexandre Kananito of Uige. New
members of the Central Committee include Minister of Public Administration,
Pitra Neto, the ambassador to Portugal, Jose Patricio, and Jose Leitao.
On 12 December the first meeting of the
Central Committee elected Joao Lourenco as Secretary General, replacing
Lopo do Nascimento.
The changes in the make-up of the leadership
of the MPLA reflect a strengthening of the position of President Jose Eduardo
dos Santos. It is understood that Joao Lourenco was strongly backed
by the President, and is being tipped as his eventual successor.
New report on diamond trading and UNITA
A non-governmental organisation, Global
Witness, has released a major report on the international complicity in
funding UNITA’s war machine in Angola. The report, A Rough Trade
– The Role of Companies and Governments in the Angolan Conflict, published
on 14 December, estimates that between 1992 and 1998 UNITA has earned $3.7
billion from the sale of diamonds.
The report shows how De Beers and its
Central Selling Organisation controls 80% of the world diamond market,
and that they have consistently bought up Angolan gem quality diamonds.
In response to the report, De Beers has made clear that it has instructed
its buyers not to purchase any diamonds which could have come from UNITA.
The report states that international
sanctions imposed on the trade in non-authorised Angolan diamonds on 1
July have not had any significant impact. It says that routes have
changed, with countries such as Zambia becoming a new transit point for
smuggling. A large proportion of these end up in Antwerp, Belgium.
Criticism of inaction against sanction
The report also criticises the Angolan
government for its failure to impose rigorous controls over its system
of Certificates of Origin (CO). In particular, there is no printed
name next to the signatures on the COs, they are signed by a number of
different people, the government has not given the Belgian government a
list of approved signatories, nor is there one identifiable official stamp.
According to reliable diamond industry
sources, UNITA’s earnings from diamonds may drop in 1998 to around $200
million, from $600 million in 1997. This is partly due to UNITA losing
control over some diamond mines, and the drop in diamond prices. However,
more significantly, UNITA has exhausted the most easily available diamonds
in some areas under its control, and the reduction in diamond revenues
Amnesty International calls for respect
Amnesty International called on 14 December
for all armed forces in Angola to respect the Geneva Convention and avoid
killing civilians in the renewed fighting.
Amnesty said that “all combatants
must be made aware that killing and torture of prisoners are war crimes
for which they should be held responsible”.
UN launches consolidated appeal
The United Nations has launched its 1999
Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Angola. UN agencies and the
International Organisation for Migration are appealing for $66 million
for projects focussed on short-term emergency needs.
The largest item required in the budget
is $25 million for food security, followed by $11.6 million for health,
nutrition, non-food items, water and sanitation. The appeal is looking
for $11 million for resettlement and reintegration.
The World Food Programme is due to get
the largest slice of the appeal – some $31 million, and UNICEF is due to
get almost $15 million.
The 1999 appeal is less than the 1998
appeal ($81 million) and the 1997 appeal ($199 million). This is
because previous appeals were based on optimistic readings of the security
situation in Angola. The appeals assumed a gradual return to peace,
leading to projects for rehabilitation and development.
Despite this, the 1998 Inter-Agency Consolidated
Appeal for Angola was a relative success. By 11 November 1998 the
appeal had received $56 million – 68% of its target. As the UN Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) points out, this is
one of the highest funded appeals in terms of percentage received against
requirements. This is all the more creditable given that the UNHCR
and the IOM had both reduced their funding requirements by $11 million
due to the worsening violence.
The top ten donors to the 1998 Appeal
Notable successes of the UN agencies
include: giving food aid to one million people; vaccinating 300,000 against
meningitis and 230,000 children against six vaccine preventable diseases;
the rehabilitation of schools and health posts; providing emergency relief
for more than 100,000 newly displaced people; the incorporation of 1,500
UNITA health workers into the National Health system; and the clearance
of mines from 2 million square miles.
However, the living conditions for Angolans
remain intolerable. The Appeal points out that the humanitarian crisis
is “not only the result of the present conflict but also the consequence
of the quasi-total disruption of the socio-economic structures and services”.
For the 1999 Appeal, it is assumed that
there will be an escalation of the conflict, short of a full return to
war. The appeal hopes to be flexible enough to alter its programme
should the situation deteriorate or improve. However, no development
projects are included in this appeal. Projects for rehabilitation
and development will have to be funded outside the appeal. There
is a specific emphasis on the need to ensure that humanitarian and human
rights activities complement each other. However, this may conflict
with a main objective which is to “defend and advocate respect for
the universal principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence”.