JOHANNESBURG — FRANTIC international and regional diplomacy appears to be having little impact on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Angola, which a United Nations envoy has described as the world's worst conflict in terms of human suffering and loss of life.
"Angola's humanitarian situation is catastrophic because there are 1,000 people dying every day directly, or indirectly, from the war," said Alouine Blondin Beye, the UN special envoy to Angola, at a news briefing in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Tuesday.
"No other country in the world ... should be the focus of the international community more than Angola.... You don't have a comparable tragedy in Somalia, Bosnia, or Cambodia," he said, adding that Angola has had a higher proportion of deaths in recent months than other areas.
Relief workers say that up to 2 million Angolans are at risk of losing their lives unless the conflict is halted.
A renewed military offensive by the ruling Popular Movement of the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) - this time with military support from several nations including Russia, Israel, Portugal, and Brazil, according to diplomatic sources - is frustrating diplomatic efforts to halt the civil war.
The UN Security Council has set a Sept. 15 deadline for the MPLA and Jonas Savimbi's rebel movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), to return to the negotiating table. Mr. Beye, who held talks with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in Harare, said President Mugabe was prepared to meet Mr. Savimbi in an effort to end the war.
On Tuesday, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos turned down an offer from South Africa's Nelson Mandela to host a joint meeting of Savimbi and Mr. Dos Santos in the presence of King Hassan of Morocco, a former backer of UNITA, and President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast.
Chester Crocker, the principal United States specialist on African affairs and architect of US diplomacy in southern Africa, has called for a strict implementation of the crumbling international embargo on arms supplies to Angolan parties, and the holding of a second presidential election with a larger UN presence. Breaking arms embargo
In a recent interview with the Portuguese journal Expresso, Mr. Crocker was highly critical of countries that have lifted the arms embargo on Angola and are supplying government forces with arms. "What is truly tragic is what we are witnessing now with the Portuguese talking of doing away with the Triple Zero Clause [that prevents arms sales to Angola] and involving themselves in the sale of arms, just like the Russians," he said.
According to Western diplomats in Luanda, the main focus of the new MPLA offensive is the central highlands town of Huambo - Angola's second largest city. Huambo was captured by UNITA after a bloody 55-day battle in March that claimed an estimated 12,000 lives. MPLA forces advancing on Huambo claim to be within reach of the crucial city.
Western journalists recently visited the town of Ganda, about 60 miles west of Huambo, and claimed on Tuesday that the MPLA had captured the towns of Hoque and Cucala south of Huambo.
In recent weeks, government aircraft bombed UNITA positions in Huambo and inflicted heavy losses on UNITA columns that were transferring from the city of Menongue in the southwest to the besieged city of Cuito, the capital of Bie Province, which is east of Huambo. Relief workers in Luanda estimate that some 12,000 people died in the Cuito siege.
Regular food relief
Relief organizations like the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Catholic relief agency Caritas are flying regular food supplies to the central city of Malange, to Luena and Saurimo in the east, to Dundo, southeast of Luanda, and to Cabinda in the north.
Beye, a former foreign minister of Mali who recently became the UN's special envoy in Angola, chided the international media for ignoring the situation. His claims of a critical humanitarian situation in Angola are strongly backed by aid agencies and relief workers in the country.
In a report released yesterday, WFP paints an alarming picture of conditions in the country's major towns and cities, the complete collapse of interprovincial trade, and severe malnutrition and starvation in the capital of Luanda and the coast ports of Lobito and Benguela.
The UN Children's Education Fund estimates that at least 4,000 children are dying each month - about 1,000 in fighting and 3,000 from disease and malnutrition.
The WFP has revised its policy of giving priority to rural areas and is now also providing soup kitchens in the cities of Lobito and Benguela. "It is no longer surprising to find in the neighborhoods of Lobito extremely thin and hungry children," said Mercedes Sayagues, WFP information director for Southern Africa.