March 16, 2002

ANGOLA: Government, Unita agree on ceasefire

The Angolan army and Unita rebel leaders agreed on Friday, March 15, to end Africa's longest-running conflict, less than three weeks after the death of the man who launched the rebellion in 1975, Jonas Savimbi, the two sides announced in a joint statement. It said the agreement was reached during a meeting attended by military officials and Unita leaders in the village of Cassamba in Moxico, the eastern province where Savimbi was killed. "On March 15, the first official meeting between the armed forces of Angola and National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) took place in Cassamba" and led to "the end of hostilities in the country," said the statement, released by the Angolan presidency.

Angola's government late on Wednesday, March 13, had ordered its forces to halt attacks on Unita rebels as of the following day, and said it was prepared to offer an amnesty to rebel fighters. The government indicated the move was aimed at establishing a dialogue with Unita with the ultimate goal of achieving a definitive ceasefire.

The announcement gave no indication when or where a formal ceasefire agreement may be signed. The meeting was attended by the deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, General Geraldo Nunda, and the commander of Unita forces, Abreu Kamorteiro. Government sources said it lasted about four hours and the two sides agreed to meet again on Monday, March 18, in the Moxico capital of Lwena. Kamorteiro decided to base himself in Lwena to help implement a ceasefire and Unita's demilitarisation, something the army pledged to facilitate, the sources said.

Civil war has raged virtually non-stop in Angola since its independence from Portugal in 1975. But the death in battle on February 22 of Savimbi, Unita's founding leader and viewed by the government as a major obstacle to peace, raised hopes that new efforts to end the war would ensue in Angola. The breakthrough was further speeded when it emerged that Unita general Antonio Dembo, seen as a likely successor to Savimbi, was killed in the same battle. Since the death of Savimbi (67) Unita has virtually ceased all military activities, and hopes of peace were further raised earlier on Friday, March 15, when it named delegates to ceasefire talks with the government under UN auspices. A statement signed by 46 Unita deputies said the rebel movement had appointed a "foreign affairs mission" from among Unita members in exile. "Given that Unita is under (UN) sanctions, the foreign affairs mission is the only credible body that can pursue contacts already begun through the United Nations with the aim of implementing the (1994) Lusaka peace protocol," the Unita statement said.

The peace accord signed in the Zambian capital has long been in tatters, and the United Nations imposed sanctions on Unita in October 1997 for its failure to respect it. Full-scale war resumed in 1998 with a government offensive aimed at annihilating Unita. According to the most conservative estimates, more than 500 000 people have died in the civil war, which followed a 14-year independence war against Portugal, and more than one-third of the nation's 12 million people have been displaced. The war has devastated the economy of Angola, whose vast natural resources include oil and diamonds. (MAIL&GUARDIAN)

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