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Angola & Peace

Angolans pin hopes on peace pact to deliver a better future.

Long-suffering Angolans hopes peace and prosperity will result from the signing of a peace agreement in Lusaka today. K.T.Rajasingham looks at the background of the internal conflict that has raged for 19 years in the resource-rich southwest African nation.

The signing of the Lusaka Protocol today and the subsequent ceasefire arrangement starting tomorrow are considered as watershed in bringing a peaceful and prosperous future to war-torn Angola.

FuturoTranquilothe longing of more than nine million people of Angola for the last 19 years is now within their grasp. But it could elude them yet again amid the prevailing climate of uncertainty and confusion. The nation beset with death and misery and hopelessnessdesperately yearns for a future peace, harmony and unity. After the loss of more than 500,000 lives in the last 19 years of war, everything hinges on the outcome of the United Nations-brokered peace treaty.

The future of Angola now lies with Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, the leader of the Uniao Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA). Contradictory statements abound in the international print and electronic media about his presence in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, on today to sign the Lusaka Protocol which is designed to bring in peace to Angola. The protocol was discussed, agreed and initialed on behalf of UNITA by Savimbis son and top military leader Arlindo Pena Ben Ben on October 31 at Lusaka.

Confusion started when Angolan Government forces controlled by Movimento Popular de Libertaco de Angola (MPLA) started an offensive against the UNITA base and headquarters, Huambo, the second-largest city, which is 530 kilometers southeast of Luanda, the capital of Angola.

According to Red Cross spokesman, this offensive has led the fleeing of more than 50,000 residents of the city and several hundred deaths.

A ministerial spokesman, whose identity cannot be disclosed under the international code of briefing, told this writer that the offensive on Huambo was necessary because UNITA units continue to attack other parts of the country, namely the western city of NDaltando and eastern Malenje province, and most recently in Benguela Province in the South of Luanda. He stressed that the rebel movement has shown that it will never stop fighting until it is controlled and subdued.

The same ministerial spokesman alleged that UN Angola Verification Mission II (UN Vaven-II) betrayed MPLA after the UN monitored election held on November 1992, and a section of the mission was responsible for providing surrendered arms and ammunitions to UNITA. He said that this led to the renewed offensive by UNITA after the 1992 election.

Observers state that even though the two warring faction have come close to signing the UN brokered peace plan, mutual mistrust still exist.

The Lusaka Protocol was aimed at ending fighting which erupted on the eve of independence from Portugal in 1975, when UNITA anti-colonial rebels went to war against the rival MPLA-led government which seized power.

Angola is located on the Atlantic coast of the Southwest Africa, bordering Namibia to the south Zambia to the east, Zaire to the North. Cabinda is an enclave separated from the rest of the country by a shirt stretch of Atlantic coastline. The population according to available 1992 estimates, is almost nine million and comprises of the following ethnic and religious groupings.

Angola is one of the few countries rich with natural resources in the dark continent of Africa. There are large reserves of crude oil produced at the rate of 505,000 barrel per day, huge hydro-electric potential (on Kwanza, Cuenene and other rivers), valuable minerals including diamonds, (the blue hued diamonds are among the best in the world), iron-ore, phosphates, copper, feldspar, gold, bauxite and uranium.

Angola was said to have been discovered by Portuguese mariner Diogo Cao, in 1483, and Portuguese were present for more than 500 years. The Portuguese gradually penetrated all parts of Angola, but it was not until around 1900, that they gained control of a vast part of the regions interior, which they had done much to ruin. Angolans continued to resist Portuguese domination, and that resistance ended in success in 1975, after a long liberation war launched in 1961 and led b the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The MPLA is a political force that included all real patriots ready to fight Portuguese colonialism in the form of armed struggle.

Earlier, during the rule of President Salazar of Portugal, Angola and other colonies were considered as overseas provinces of Portugal. The same policy was followed by Marcelo Caetano, who succeeded Salazar in 1968. The colonial masters ruthlessly suppressed the Angolan national movements.

Outside intervention intensified the conflict. In November 1975, Angola officially gained independence and was renamed Popular De Angola. After the death of the first president, Agostinho Neto, in September 1979, the central committee of the MPLA selected Jose Edurado dos Santos as president of the party, automatically making him president of Angola.

Santos who was foreign affairs minister and later minister of planning under Neto, is a qualified petroleum engineer. Even his adversaries consider him the legendary father of the nation.

Under his leadership and in spite of the war, the Angolan people have been able to defend their independence and national ---- practice by the MPLA with the view to the creation of a society in which the exercise of the multi-party democracy corresponds to the longing for peace, freedom, justice and social progress.

Such changes naturally also extend to the national economy, the development which will bring about a mixed economy based on market laws.\

The war in Angola was brought to an - - when one year of negotiations, held under the auspices of the Portuguese government with the US and former USSR as observers, culminated in the signing of the Bice Peace Accord in May 1991. The peace process was overseen by a body known the Joint Political Military Commission (CCPM) which included representatives of the government and the UNITA as well as Portugal, the USA and the former USSR. A force to monitor the whole peace process, including the elections.

It was under highly explosive coordination that Angola embarked on its first ever experiment with multi-party president and parliamentary elections in September 29-30, 1992. The new parliament, Assemblia Nacional, was to elect 220 members to hold office for four years with the president to hold office for five years.

The election passed off peacefully as there was remarkably high turnout of 91 per cent of the registered electorate. Seventeen political parties contested the election. D.Santos polled 49.57 per cent in the presidential contest while in the parliamentary election MPLA obtained 129 seats with 53.74 per cent of votes and UNITA 70 seats or 34.41 per cent of votes. The remaining 21 seats were shared by newly formed small parties.

On October 17, 1992, the UN declared the elections to have been free and fair. But the UNI|TA claimed that there had been wide spread fraud and accused the government of rigging and stealing the election. Savimbi immediately mobilized his force and started attacking the government from Luanda. By the end of October 1992, UNITA had been driven out of Luanda and the war spread out into several provinces. Savimbi made Huambo as the base of UNITA.

Meanwhile, the US extended diplomatic relationship with Angola in April 1993 followed by most of the other countries worldwide including Thailand.

Surin Pitsuwan, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, (Thailand), told this Writer at a special conference, also attended by officials of the Africa division of the ministry, that Thailand looks forward for a better and more friendly relationship with Angola and stated that the new office of the Thai Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, would be accredited to look after the affairs of Angola. Already, the Angolan Minister for External Relations, Venancio de Moura has invited the Thai Foreign minister to Angola. The invitation has been accepted and is still pending.

And the Minister to the Prime Minister office, Surasak Thiemprasert, has extended an invitation for a visit to Thailand by five ministers from Angola under the leadership of Albino Malungo, the Minister for Social Rehabilitation and assistance. This visit is expected to take place after the outcome of the Lusaka Protocol.

Angolans waits warily for the outcome of the signing of this peace accord.

The Nation - Thailand - 15/11/94