Late last year, there was some optimism that substantial numbers of former UNITA soldiers would be able to return home and start planting crops during the 2002/2003 rainy season, and harvesting by April this year. Now it is generally acknowledged that many of the soldiers will not be able to start planting until the end of 2003.
"It is correct to say that the window of opportunity for the planting season has closed," World Food Programme country director Francisco Roque Castro told IRIN.
He added that the government programme for distributing seeds and tools to the former guerrillas "is not there any more".
"The intentions that were there in August, September and October, to have a very integrated programme on the part of the government to provide them with the proper support, did not materialise in the way that was expected," Roque Castro said.
The problem has been compounded by the fact that the number of soldiers reaching the gathering areas set up for former UNITA combatants is roughly double what was originally anticipated.
The first memorandum of understanding which the Angolan Armed Forces and UNITA signed in March allowed for the presence of 55,000 ex-soldiers plus their families in the gathering areas. The total had grown to over 80,000 by October 2002. A further influx of former soldiers late last year, mostly in Malange province in the north, brought the number to over 100,000 soldiers, each with an estimated average of six civilian dependants.
Delays in the distribution of resettlement kits - comprising tools and other basic necessities - have been blamed on the fact that the contract for the procurement of the kits was originally awarded to a close associate of President José Eduardo dos Santos, who failed to make good.
According to one senior UN official, the contract has now been awarded to a Portuguese contractor, and kits are now being manufactured at a rate of 500 a week and delivered to provincial capitals. However, lack of capacity at provincial government level was preventing the kits from being distributed from the provincial capitals to the areas where they were needed, the official told IRIN.
Rain has been a further obstacle to the resettlement process. According to a recent update by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), hundreds of former soldiers and family members have become stranded after leaving the gathering areas in a country where the transport infrastructure is in a desperate state of disrepair.
The resettlement process for civilian displaced has gone more smoothly, with 1.3 million returning home since April, according to OCHA. The pace has now slowed because of the rainy season, but some 500,000 more are expected to return when the rains finish.
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