July 22, 2010

Cabinda: Separatists deny end to conflict

Seven months after an attack on the Togo national team by Cabindan separatists in Angola, a faction of the movement is claiming that no ceasefire was ever signed with the government. "We did not sign any ceasefire with the Angolans," Tiago, leader of FLEC-FAC (Armed Forces of Cabinda), now in exile in the French capital, Paris, said. According to him, all correspondence from him to the Angolan government and its President, Eduardo Dos Santos, offering to engage in peace negotiations had been ignored. „The answer to the letters seeking peaceful negotiations has always been sending more troops to Cabinda to kill Cabindans," he claimed.

Cabinda, which is separated from Angola's main territory by the Congo River and a narrow wedge of the Democratic Republic of Congo, provides around 60 percent of the oil production that makes Angola the largest producer in Africa. Cabinda's mineral wealth also includes gold, diamonds and uranium, as well as extensive reserves of tropical hardwoods.

Tiago's claim to Cabindan independence is based on the different colonial histories of Angola and the disputed enclave. Angola was a Portuguese colony for hundreds of years, while Cabinda became a Portuguese Protectorate in 1885 under the Treaty of Simulambuco, which provided protection to the Cabindan kingdoms of N'Goyo, Kacongo, and Loango from the colonial ambitions of Belgium, Britain and France.

Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar declared Angola a province of Portugal in the 1930s and Cabinda was brought under the same administration. Those favouring independence for Cabinda claim Angola's first government annexed it at independence in 1975. The ruling MPLA government views Cabinda as a province of Angola and has dismissed the argument of cultural differences as "not enough to grant it [Cabinda] independence, because all the provinces in the country have specific cultures".

The Cabindan Forum for Dialogue (FCD), formed in 2004 in the Netherlands, included representatives of all the FLEC factions, Cabindan civil society and church groupings. In 2006 Antonio Bento Bembe - then president of the FCD - signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which, at least on paper, brought an end to Cabinda's separatist ambitions. In 2005, while in the Netherlands, Bento Bembe was arrested on an international warrant for the kidnapping of an oil company employee 15 years earlier while he was a FLEC combatant, but he was given parole through the use of an Angolan diplomatic passport and returned to Luanda.

Bento Bembe, recently appointed Angola's first minister of human rights in the ruling MPLA government, said that Tiago "dreams of a glorious military victory, but he is a sick old man on his death-bed in Paris, and when he dies, so will his cause". FLEC's exiled Secretary General, Joel Batila, dismissed Bento Bembe's MOU, and offers of peace by a group of senior FLEC office-holders, as "a coup d'etat organised by Angola".
Batila said FLEC's chief of staff, Stanislas Boma, vice president Alexandre Tati, security chief Carlos Luembe, and foreign affairs minister Luis Veras recently visited Luanda without the authority of the movement's president, and subsequently declared the armed struggle of more than 35 years at an end. He said the four senior officials were no longer regarded as office-holders of FLEC. Tiago added that Bento Bembe did not have the authority to make a peace agreement, and his organization refused to accept its terms, as FLEC's primary demand and reason for existing was the independence of Cabinda.

The MOU, among other things, provided an amnesty for all combatants, an immediate ceasefire, the reduction of Angolan troop numbers in the province, and the recognition that Cabinda and Angola were "a united and indivisible nation". Tiago suggested that the four senior officials had accepted bribes for acceding to the demands of the Angolan government. "Now what they [Angolan government] are doing is divide and rule, corrupting those people in their favour and paying them money. It is not going to help the problem of Cabinda," he said. He added: "I think we have to start negotiations to end the war, but these negotiations have to be held in the presence of international observers, such as the African Union, European Union and United Nations." Furthermore Tiago stressed the possibility of a referendum.
On the other side, Bento Bembe recently told international media, "if FLEC leaders say they want to talk with the government, we say we are open to that." (IRIN)

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