|28 March 2001
ANGOLA: UNITA fails to counter army gains
UNITA rebels loyal to Jonas Savimbi have continued to carry out sporadic
attacks on civilian targets. UNITA has portrayed these attacks as the fruits of
the reorganisation of their forces since they were forced out of their
strongholds in 2000. However, it is significant that despite the murder of
hundreds of people over the last year, there have been no major sustained
advances on the battlefield for UNITA.
Whilst some of these attacks tie down the Angolan army, FAA, to
protecting civilian areas, the majority of attacks are hungry rebels looting
food. The continued mine-laying by UNITA is still a matter of serious concern
as it makes the roads dangerous to use, limiting the freedom of movement of the
UNITA has so far been unable to hold any of the positions it has taken
from FAA. At the end of February FAA retook Quibaxe, Bengo province, from
UNITA, who had held the town from 17 to 23 February. According to the
Portuguese Lusa news agency, UNITA killed a number of civilians during the
occupation, and around 8,000 of the population are missing (presumed either to
be hiding in the countryside or under UNITA control).
UNITA has managed to carry out some high profile attacks, hitting
strategic targets before withdrawing. Seven people were killed and six wounded
when UNITA attacked the edges of Benguela City on 12 March, during which houses
were looted. UNITA also claims to have attacked the major airforce base at
Catumbela on the same day.
Landmines continue to pose a threat to traffic. They are particularly
difficult to control as they are easily transportable and only take a matter of
minutes to plant. Radio Ecclesia reported that twenty people died and 27 were
wounded on 28 February when a truck hit an anti-tank mine between Mungo and
Huambo. One person was killed and two injured on 13 March when their vehicle
hit a mine on the road from Alto Hama to Bailundo.
According to Captain Bemba Kaliato who surrendered to the Angolan
authorities in Benguela City recently, UNITA troops are suffering from a lack
of food and medicines, and he predicts that many more will soon surrender.
UNITA's leader, Jonas Savimbi, on 22 March contacted Voice of America by
satellite telephone for a twenty-minute interview, launching speculation about
where he was, and what he wanted. This is the first interview that Savimbi has
carried out in 18 months. During the interview, Savimbi accepted that UNITA has
suffered military defeats, but warned that the rebels were reorganising and
making a comeback.
The rebel leader stated that UNITA was ready for dialogue stating that
"we would like to come to a national reconciliation phase, in peace, with calm,
with a disposition to accept the errors pointed out to us". However, he warned
that "it is not possible to speak about disarmament when there is a mandate for
Savimbi may have been aiming to play to the gallery in Washington, where
he may still hold hopes of regaining ground since George W Bush became US
President, claiming that "the Clinton administration accepted war as the way to
end the war. Now the Bush administration is saying that dialogue is the best
way to achieve peace. I think that is a monumental difference".
His hopes may have risen with the appointment of Walter Kansteiner as
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, where he has taken on the job
previously carried out by Susan Rice. Kansteiner had previously been
sympathetic to Jonas Savimbi. However, there is no evidence that there has been
any shift in policy at the White House. An Angolan diplomatic source indicated
that the government remains confident that relations with the United States
will continue to improve.
he speaker of Angola's parliament, Roberto de Almeida, on 25 March
publicly replied to Savimbi's call for dialogue, stating that "if the Lusaka
Protocol is still valid as he [Savimbi] says, he should first complete the
clauses relating to the demilitarisation of his party - there should be no
militarised party. This is the first step". The speaker continued that "We know
that Savimbi only gets interested in dialogue and negotiations when he is weak"
(Angola, Peace Monitor, London).