9 Jan 2002

ANGOLA: Improving relations to Rwanda

Rwandan President Paul Kagame was due to leave Angola on Wednesday, Jan 9, after a two-day visit aimed at mending relations between the two countries on opposite sides of the conflict in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

"The visit is a positive sign," Rwandan foreign ministry secretary-general Joseph Mutoboba told IRIN. "We were friends before and the war in the Congo shouldn't affect our relations."

The DRC conflict topped the agenda in talks between Kagame and his Angolan counterpart Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Mutoboba said. Kagame is due to join a summit of southern African leaders in Malawi on Monday that will discuss the implementation of the delayed Lusaka peace agreement in the Congo. "The [Luanda] talks are about peace and security for the two countries and for the whole region," the foreign ministry official said. Both Rwanda and Angola have troops in the DRC, with Kigali supporting anti-government rebels and Luanda helping prop up President Joseph Kabila. They had earlier collaborated in the ousting of the then Zaire leader, Mobutu Sese Seko and his replacement by Laurent Desire Kabila.

But as evidence of the realignment of regional interests in the DRC post-Mobutu, a UN Panel of Experts report in 2000 outlined the military links between Rwanda and the Angolan rebel movement UNITA. According to the report, the contacts dated from 1998 when UNITA helped trapped Rwandan troops - fighting to oust Kabila - escape into northern Angola. The report said the relationship developed into direct military cooperation inside DRC, and assistance for the rebels' sanctions-busting operations via Kigali.

However, Mutoboba reiterated Rwanda's denials of UNITA ties. "Rwanda has never had any contacts with UNITA and have no intention of doing so," he said. "Angola and Rwanda have the same problem, they share borders with Congo. So if Angola has a problem with UNITA taking refuge in Congo, you know Rwanda has the same problem: our rebels are not only in the Congo but are being sponsored by the Kabila government," the official added.

Meanwhile, according to London-based political analyst Ahmed Rajab, both Nigeria and South Africa are pressuring UNITA to enter peace talks with the Luanda government. Rajab, editor of Africa Analysis, told IRIN that "contacts have been established between UNITA and Nigeria" since mid-last year, with Abuja playing a role in the release of children kidnapped by the rebel movement from the town of Caxito in May. Ibrahim Gambari, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy - and a former Nigerian foreign minister - this month announced that he had held talks with a UNITA representative in the United States as part of a peace initiative. (IRIN)

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