May 22, 2002

UN: Humanitarian situation "very serious"

The UN's Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain is to lead an inter-agency needs assessment mission to Angola in early June as the United Nations works towards an expanded role in the country's peace process. Mountain's visit is to be followed by the arrival of Kenzo Oshima, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Ibrahim Gambari, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on Africa, to launch a joint emergency humanitarian appeal with the government.

On Tuesday, May 21, Gambari told a briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that the ceasefire signed on 4 April in Luanda between the Angolan government and rebel UNITA movement was holding. But he warned that the humanitarian situation was "very serious", particularly in the 38 quartering areas where 55,000 UNITA troops and 300,000 of their family members are supposed to be housed.

The government had underestimated the enormous challenges of providing food, shelter and medicine for the ex-combatants and their family members, the UN news wire quoted Gambari as saying. So far, 65,343 UNITA soldiers had arrived at the quartering areas along with 163,819 family members. Another 8,800 more soldiers and 7,000 family members were still expected. Contributing to the problem was the fact that the role of the UN in Phase I of the peace process, while important, was "subordinate", the Special Adviser said. He noted that it was essentially an observer in the demobilisation process.

Furthermore, the UN did not have access to the quartering areas and did not have a framework agreement spelling out the responsibilities to be shared with the government in providing services to the quartering areas. The United Nations, nonetheless, did have a contingency plan, Gambari said. Mountain would visit from 8 to 14 June to assess needs. He added that the Secretary-General was preparing a reply to a letter from President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who had asked for technical and "management" assistance and resources for the quartering areas. The Special Adviser also said that Annan's forthcoming report to the Security Council would define a new mandate for the United Nations in view of the changed circumstances. Gambari noted that the current mandate of the UN Office in Angola was very narrow - providing capacity-building, human rights training and mobilising resources for humanitarian assistance. In Phase II of the ceasefire agreement, at the end of the year, the United Nations would chair the Joint Commission to examine implementation of of the outstanding issues under the Lusaka Protocol that would involve new responsibilities.

Meanwhile, a meeting was held on Monday, May 20, in Luanda between the United Nations and the "troika" of peace observer countries - the United States, Russian Federation and Portugal - on how to respond to the dire situation in the camps. They decided to meet with the Joint Military Commission (JMC) overseeing the demobilisation process to share information, Gambari said. They also agreed to form a "technical group" to assess the needs and prepare concrete proposals to ensure success of the quartering process.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and aid agencies in Angola are extending relief operations into the family quartering areas, and in other parts of the country now accessible as a result of the ceasefire.

Relief workers who have been operating in the quartering camps, as well as the JMC (made up of both government and UNITA military officers), have described the humanitarian situation there in recent weeks as critical. OCHA said in a report released on May 21 that "operations will be extended in a pragmatic manner within current logistical and funding constraints ... These operations [in family quartering areas] are extensions of ongoing provincial programmes and are complementary to government programmes". (IRIN)

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