5 October 2001

ANGOLA: Government welcomes church peace initiative

The Angolan government has responded to the Campaign against War in Angola which the Catholic church and the Open Society Foundation launched last month. The campaign sent a clear message both to the government and the UNITA rebels that they should lay down their weapons for the sake of all Angolans.

Interior minister Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, quoted in the state newspaper 'Jornal de Angola' on Oct 4, said everyone in the government agreed on reaching peace through dialogue. When asked whether the church's campaign clashed with the government's plans, the minister said they did not clash "because during the first contacts we made with all the political parties and the churches, we asked that we all be allowed to participate together in the spirit of creating a culture of tolerance among citizens".

The minister's remarks come as a surprise after a generally negative response to the campaign in the

government media. State television described it as a campaign by the opposition. The head of the Catholic church in Angola, Archbishop Zacarias Kamwenho, objected strongly to the report, insisting that the church was taking a non-party political stand. The Catholic Church is a respected social force in Angola, and it would be difficult for the government to distance itself publicly from the message of the campaign. But, according to reports, despite the reconciliatory words of the interior minister, there was no suggestion that the government would alter its stated goal of a military victory against UNITA.

Meanwhile Angolan rebels gunned down more than 80 diamond diggers in an attack in the gem-rich northeast of the country. "More than 80 people were killed and various others wounded while others fled into the bush after an attack near Kuango," said the US „Voice of America“, which has a local station in the Angolan capital.

The aim of the attack, which a local source blamed on members of UNITA, was to steal food, the

source said. Many of the wounded leapt into the Kuango River, the source told. The attack follows the murder of six chiefs two weeks ago by UNITA rebels in the Kuango area, which is deemed to have the best diamonds in Angola.

Since its formation in 1966 UNITA has used diamonds to buy arms in illegal trade that earned the rebels, under elusive leader Jonas Savimbi, as much as US $3 billion between 1992 and 1998. Many of Angola's thousands of diamond diggers, known as garimpeiros, come from across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It was not clear from the report how many foreigners had been killed. (IRIN)

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