(February 13, 2003)

ANGOLA: Kofi Annan highlights demobilisation and reintegration obstacles

With the mandate of the UN Mission in Angola (UNMA) ending on 15 February, a report to the Security Council has highlighted ongoing concerns over the demobilisation and resettlement of former rebel soldiers and their families. On Wednesday, March 12, the UN Security Council considered Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report on UNMA and welcomed the steps taken by the government of Angola towards the full implementation of the Lusaka Protocol. The council also "commended the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Angola, Ibrahim Gambari, for his efforts to bring this important phase of the United Nations involvement in Angola to a successful conclusion".

UNMA was mandated to assist in the consolidation of peace in Angola following an April 2002 ceasefire agreement. UNMA, along with the government, civil society, former rebel group UNITA and other actors has been engaged in "identifying the priorities to move the country from a state of armed conflict towards normalcy". Annan reported to the Security Council that "the demobilisation, resettlement and re-integration [into civilian life] of UNITA ex-combatants has been one of the areas of acute concern and is considered one of the government's main priorities in order to ensure stability in the country". He said that by the end of January, about 90,000 ex-soldiers had been registered in gathering areas, while about 15,000 were still waiting to move to their designated reception areas from the provinces and neighbouring countries. The government had initially estimated there were 55,000 UNITA soldiers. But there was an influx of over 100,000 former rebels, each with an estimated average of six civilian dependants, into reception areas in the months following the ceasefire agreement.

Annan warned that "a number of factors continue to hinder the demobilisation, resettlement and re-integration process". This included "in some instances, a politicised ex-combatant population which, at times, has been less than cooperative with the authorities". While "a lack of adequate facilities, inaccessible roads, mine infestation and inadequately prepared resettlement areas have added considerably to delays", Annan reported. Complicating an already difficult situation was that "payments by the government to ex-combatants have been irregular and not universal. About 20 percent of ex-combatants are still waiting to be included on the payroll," he noted. He added that resettlement kits - which included agricultural inputs and equipment - were not being delivered to everyone.

The secretary-general also noted that "sensitisation campaigns did not take place universally, resulting in instances where communities have expelled resettled ex-combatants, forcing some to return to the reception areas". Consequently, the government estimated that it may take up to one year to transfer the remaining ex-combatants and their dependents from their present locations to over 600 designated resettlement areas. Meanwhile, the onset of the rainy season, combined with poor road conditions and mine incidents had severely affected humanitarian operations.

"By mid-January approximately 445,000 people who had earlier been receiving assistance were inaccessible. Following a series of mine incidents in November and December, operations were shut down or reduced in 13 locations in seven heavily mined provinces. The situation of the populations in those areas was reportedly deteriorating and may become critical unless access can be re-established," the secretary-general added.In addition, about 200,000 people living in remote locations had yet to be reached by humanitarian agencies. Annan also warned that while the movement, organised and otherwise, of ex-combatants and dependents from reception areas had decreased significantly with the start of the rainy season, it was expected to pick up again in April. "According to the government, more than 2.8 million people were still displaced at the end of 2002 ... in addition, as many as 400,000 refugees remained in neighbouring countries". It was expected that some 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), ex-solders and refugees would return to their areas of origin during 2003.

Annan said humanitarian operations would target two key goals during 2003: stabilising populations in danger and supporting return and resettlement on the basis of the government's norms and regulations. While UN agencies and partners would "undertake initiatives aimed at reducing poverty and creating the conditions for sustainable development in an effort to move out of the emergency phase", the UN sought to transfer the responsibility for coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the government over time. The UN Resident Coordinator would assume responsibility for UN activities in the country when the UNMA mandate ends on 15 February. (IRIN)

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