2 May 2002

Challenges to the peace process

Angola's ceasefire has presented the country with the opportunity to consolidate peace and rebuild after close to thirty years of civil war. But analysts warn that the process envisaged by the government is highly ambitious, and would require significant donor assistance for its implementation. The ceasefire has lifted a curtain that had hidden the full impact of the war on the civilian population in the countryside. Malnutrition among people emerging from the conflict zones "is among the worst seen in Africa in the past decade", Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said in a statement last week.

An estimated 500,000 people are only now becoming accessible to aid agencies following the 4 April ceasefire accord. They had been cut off from medical and food aid for several years. Among the displaced arriving in the city of Kuito from Chitembo in southern Bie province, MSF recorded acute malnutrition rates of 26 percent and 9 percent for severe malnutrition - numbers that are "well above the emergency level".

"Alarming" rates of malnutrition are also being reported by MSF teams in the southern province of Huambo. In Bunjei, 116 km away from Caala, medical staff found the level of severe malnutrition to be 30 percent, while in Chilembo, a rapid nutritional survey conducted among 1,219 children under 10 years of age revealed 42 percent global malnutrition and 10 percent severe malnutrition.

"These shocking figures are the emerging tip of a crisis that has ravaged many Angolan regions after the resumption of the war. The recent peace agreements alone cannot improve the situation. They have allowed us to get emergency teams into the area but there must now be an immediate, international response with food and medical supplies," said Koen Henckaerts, Director of Operations for MSF. However, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), multi-agency rapid assessment missions conducted in 13 out of a planned 38 newly accessible locations have so far found the situation to be less grave than had been previously feared. Jintarlo Stopponi told IRIN that with the exception of Bunjei and Chipilo, in northern Huila, "the situation is not as bad as we expected". The assessment missions are yet to reach Chilembo and Chitembo.

The 4 April ceasefire was effectively a conditional surrender by UNITA after mounting military pressure culminated in the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in February. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the head of FAA, General Armando da Cruz Neto, and the Chief of Staff of UNITA's armed wing, General Geraldo Abreu Muengo "Kamorteiro" agreed to end the fighting and complete the outstanding issues of the 1994 power sharing Lusaka Protocol.

The MOU created a Joint Military Commission to oversee the quartering and demilitarisation of UNITA's forces, generously assessed at 50,000 troops. The families of the former combatants, estimated at 300,000, would also be assisted at centres located close to the quartering areas. The MOU anticipated that the quartering and "demilitarisation" of UNITA would take 47 days from 4 April.

The process has been hamstrung by the inaccessibility of some of the 33 cantonment sites and concerns over the government's ability to take care of the humanitarian needs of the former combatants and their families. By 25 April, the government reported that only 9,000 UNITA troops had reached their quartering areas, with several thousand more in the bush awaiting transport.

On Monday, April 29, UNITA's "management commission" - created as an interim body until a party congress is held - reminded parliament's ad-hoc commission for peace and national reconciliation that UNITA forces must be properly catered for under the terms of the MOU. Analysts have warned that government inability to provide for the troops and their families could undermine the demobilisation process and encourage banditry. The Catholic station Radio Ecclesia reported that lack of supplies in cantonement areas in Kwanza-Norte province had led to UNITA troops stealing from surrounding villages.

The government has asked the United Nations to help provide assistance for the quartering and family areas. A taskforce under the UN Humanitarian Coordinator is currently drafting a contingency plan for emergency humanitarian aid for a limited period. "The components of the plan are still being defined, but may include food assistance, emergency kits, health and nutritional screening, vaccinations, shelter, water, screening of vulnerable groups and civic training. UN Agencies are also identifying the pre-conditions required for humanitarian interventions in quartering and family areas, including information on the quartering process, an operational framework and the creation of coordination mechanisms," a report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

Although representatives from the troika nations of the United States, Russia and Portugal have observer status on the Joint Military Commission, demobilisation will effectively be run by the government. "It's a highly asymmetrical situation. In practice the government will be leading the quartering and demobilisation process," Jaoa Porto, a senior researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) told IRIN.

There have been two failed peace agreements overseen by UN peacekeepers in which UNITA failed to demobilise. This time around the Angolan government appears determined to control the process. However, analysts warn that an un-addressed problem is the amount of weapons in civilian hands, distributed mainly by the government in 1992 when civil war reignited. "We are starting to see positive developments [regarding peace] but at the same time we are witnessing a worrying rise in crime," said Porto.

Demobilisation is expected to finish at the end of June. After that, 5,000 former UNITA soldiers are to be absorbed by the FAA, with the rest provided with vocational training geared to their reinsertion within society at the beginning of 2003. The government has set up a National Reconstruction Service to provide employment. The government has asked for UN support to help host an "urgent" donor conference to support the social reintegration programme. However, according to Porto, the "international community is in a wait and see mode. They burnt themselves quite seriously in the past [over the failed 1991 Bicesse peace agreement and Lusaka in 1994]". At the conclusion of the demobilisation and reintegration process, Angola moves towards a power sharing political settlement under the terms of the Lusaka accord to culminate in general elections. "This ceasefire agreement is just the beginning, it's just the military aspect of the conflict. It won't solve the structural problems [that led to war]," said Porto.(IRIN)

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