June 27, 2003

Opposition UNITA recommits to peace at congress

As a UNITA congress drew to a close on Friday, June 27, the former rebel group claimed that it now "enjoyed the full legitimacy amongst Angolans". The four-day congress held in Viana, on the outskirts of Luanda, the capital, aimed to choose a new leadership and adopt strategies for the country's first post-war elections.

UNITA secretary for foreign affairs, Alcides Sakala, told IRIN that debate during the congress focused mainly on preparations for the upcoming election and consolidating UNITA's presence throughout the country. "We realise that we will have to work hard before the imminent elections, but we are confident that we have demonstrated to the people that we are serious about peace. In the lead-up to the elections, UNITA will put forward to Angolans an alternative programme which addresses reduction of inequalities. We believe that wealth has not only been unequally distributed, but also badly distributed," Sakala said.

In the results of Angola's first nationwide legislative elections in 1992, with a turn-out of 91 percent of registered voters, the ruling MPLA won 54 percent and UNITA 34 percent. In the presidential poll the results were even closer. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos scored 49.6 percent of the vote, to UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi's 40.7 percent.

Sakala added that the reintegration of former UNITA soldiers remained a priority for the party in the future, and called on aid agencies and the government "to do more to alleviate the insecurity many of the ex-combatants are experiencing".

Earlier this month the authorities closed all quartering areas holding former rebel soldiers and their families. According to the 4 April peace accord between the government and UNITA, the gathering areas were to have been emptied by October 2002. About 100,000 people have since left the camps, most of them without the promised assistance. Since Savimbi's demise in 2002 there has been widespread speculation over who would lead UNITA in the country's next elections, scheduled to take place between 2004 and 2006. Observers said the race was between UNITA's former representative in London and Paris, Isaias Samakuva, and Lukamba 'Gato' Paulo, who has been UNITA's interim head since the death of Savimbi. Also in the running as party leader is Dinho Chingunji, a member of one of UNITA's founding families.

Sakala said the emergence of more than one candidate for the party's presidency was an indication of a new era that stressed the democratic character of the institutions. (IRIN)


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