THE contested status of the oil-rich equatorial enclave of Cabinda, one of Angola's 18 provinces, could spark a new conflict after the historic Sept. 29-30 democratic elections.
Demands for independence by Cabindan separatist movements appear to enjoy wide support among Cabindan supporters of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and its rival, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
"There is an intensification of military activities in Cabinda," said Angolan Foreign Minister Pedero de Castro van Dunem (Loy) during a visit to South Africa Sept. 24. Mr. van Dunem said the Angolan government did not accept that there were historical grounds to support the notion of an independent Cabindan state.
He said Cabinda was trying to capitalize on the trend toward the creation of micro-states in the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and other parts of the world.
As Angola moves toward national reconciliation after 17 years of civil war, and voters participate in the country's first free multiparty ballot, Angolan and foreign officials hope to avert the threat of Cabindan resistance.
"The government has decided to create a platform for negotiations for the parties to find a solution within the framework of a unitary state," the foreign minister said.
Cabinda is a tiny coastal enclave that lies between Congo to the north and Zaire to the south, eclipsing most of the latter's access to the Atlantic ocean.
The enclave accounts for nearly two-thirds of Angola's daily oil production of 550,000 barrels, and consequently is responsible for nearly 90 percent ($2 billion) of the country's foreign earnings. Proven oil reserves in Cabinda total 2.1 billion barrels and another 3 billion barrels are estimated to lie in unexplored deep water.
Despite all this, Cabinda receives less than 1 percent of Angola's oil revenues and remains underdeveloped except for the high-tech coastal complex of the United States-based Cabinda Gulf Oil Company and the forest of towers and platforms that make up the offshore drilling operation.
The oil company has its own security and access is strictly controlled. A fleet of helicopters continuously shuttles personnel between the shore base and the platforms, and daily flights carry staff between Luanda and Cabinda.
But the people of Cabinda complain that the oil revenues from the enclave's rich Malongo and Takula oil fields go directly to Luanda and that virtually no benefits return to Cabinda.
A will to break away
In the voter registration for the Sept. 29-30 ballot, the residents of Cabinda managed only a 19 percent registration rate compared with nearly 90 percent in the rest of the country.
"The low turnout by Cabindans in the voter-registration campaign amounted to a referendum on independence," says a US diplomat who monitors affairs in the enclave.
One complication is that Cabinda falls outside the jurisdiction of the United Nations Angolan Verification Mission (UNAVEM), which is monitoring the elections, because prior agreement could not be reached between the liberation movement and existing Angolan parties.
"[Cabinda] is obviously a very difficult problem," says special UN envoy Margaret Anstee. "It will have to be one of the very urgent priorities of the new government."
One Western diplomat says the US, Portugal, and the former Soviet Union lost an opportunity early in the peace process last year by not recognizing the Cabindan liberation movements as a bona fide regional party and including them in talks on Angola's future.
"This could have been followed by negotiations and eventually a referendum," the diplomat says. "That would have made the problem containable. "Now it could simmer on for many years."
The run-up to the election has been marked by conflict and violence in Cabinda. Demobilized troops of the Popular Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola, the MPLA's former military, appear to be out of control. In early September they attacked the MPLA governor in Cabinda and drove him out of the country.
The US, the MPLA, and UNITA all reject Cabinda's desire for independence and insist that the impasse should be resolved by negotiation. Efforts by the MPLA at a meeting of the interested parties three months ago failed to resolve the problem or find a way of integrating Cabinda into the peace process and the transition to democracy.
None of the factions of the fragmented Cabinda liberation movement, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), attended the meeting. A second summit has been scheduled for after the elections.
Signs of concessions
If the MPLA wins the elections, its officials appear ready to negotiate a special status for Cabinda that might amount to semi-autonomy.
"Cabinda is an integral element of Angola," says the US diplomat. "But we recognize differences between Angolans and Cabindans and that is one of the first things that we are going to have to deal with.
"The new Angolan government should negotiate a solution to the problem and not use force of arms," the diplomat said in a reference to several armed FLEC factions.
The armed factions have rear bases in Zaire and some receive support from Congo, according to Western diplomats.
The US diplomat says that Washington has maintained diplomatic contacts with some of the FLEC factions through their representatives in Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire, and Lisbon, with a view to persuading them to negotiate.
"We have told them that if they threaten Americans or US assets [and] commercial interests, all US contact with them would be broken." -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/92/sep/day30/30031.