UN Hopes Third Time's The Charm for Angola


The United Nations Angola mission in 1992 was a textbook example of how not to conduct peacekeeping. A handful of observers with a limited mandate watched impotently as rebel leader Jonas Savimbi rejected his electoral defeat and resumed the civil war with unprecedented ferocity.

Now, following a fresh peace accord in November 1994, the UN is back in Angola trying to get it right. It has brought in its largest peacekeeping force in the world: 7,000 blue helmets and 1,000 observers, at a cost of $1 million a day.

But diplomats say time and Mr. Savimbi's continued delaying tactics are not on the side of the UN. The mission's mandate expires in February, and the demobilization of 62,500 UNITA rebel troops is well behind schedule. This poses a dilemma for donors, especially the United States, which is footing one-third of the peacekeeping bill. Do they give up on Angola again if little progress is made?

The US Undersecretary of State for International Organizations, Princeton Lyman, speaking in Luanda, Angola, last month, said that Angolans themselves had to show a commitment to peace.

"There is in some quarters a questioning of the wisdom of devoting billions of dollars of scarce international resources for the reconstruction of infrastructure and economies where the people of those countries have destroyed them," he said.

This is the third attempt at peace since Angola won independence from Portugal in 1975. Then, a power-sharing agreement between the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and another liberation force broke down into civil war and the MPLA declared itself the ruler.

Angola became a cold-war theater with the US and South Africa supporting UNITA and the Soviet Union and Cuba backing the MPLA. A peace accord was signed in May 1991. But elections were held in September 1992 before UNITA was properly demobilized, and the 400-odd UN observers could not prevent renewed fighting.

The current UN special representative, Alioune Blondin Beye, insists that the UN will not abandon Angola, where more than 1 million people have been killed in 30 years of anticolonial and civil war.

But while adamant that the UN intends to leave in February, he adds that it should not repeat the mistakes of 1992.

"We should keep up the momentum for Angola to succeed. But we should avoid rushing [the Angolans]. Otherwise, we lose the investments we have made," Mr. Beye told the Monitor.

The dividends are noteworthy. There have been no major incidents for nine months. Thousands of miles of roads have been cleared of mines. By late August 59,739 UNITA troops out of a registered 62,500 had reported to camps to await demobilization. Some 32,000 weapons were handed over.

But the bad news is that 10,000 of the UNITA troops who reported to assembly areas have deserted; 2,761 more still hadn't appeared by the July deadline. The imminent rainy season will make life a misery for those in the camps and may slow down demobilization, which should be well under way by now.

Also disturbing is a new 5,000-man armed rebel "police force" whose existence violates the peace accords - as does UNITA's resistance to integrating its top generals into a new joint 90,000-strong army. UNITA says security promised by the UN is insufficient.

Diplomats say these delaying tactics, which are reminiscent of 1992, are a way to buy time before the government mandate expires in November. UNITA initially had agreed to an extension of the current parliament's mandate but now is calling for a new body to write a new constitution. It is also aware of the potential for social unrest, with Angola's devastated economy suffering 10,000 percent inflation.

Savimbi's rejection last month of the vice presidency in a coalition government, agreed to in 1994, puts his intentions in doubt.

"Savimbi is playing a waiting game, hoping the regime will collapse," says one African diplomat. "He is trying to wriggle out of what he signed in 1994 and is now saying the timetable should be flexible. There are real issues of distrust, fear, and animosity."

Diplomats say whether or not Savimbi plans to resume fighting, he is getting rich by keeping Angola in limbo. By occupying most of Angola's diamond fields, UNITA earns about $500 million a year.

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