Angola: Frustration increases as ex-soldiers await government assistance

UIGE, 26 February (IRIN) - Costa, a former soldier with the Angola's former rebel group, UNITA, thought he was finally going home last December.
Since the end of the civil war he had been living in the Madimbe gathering area in Zaire province. But the truck that fetched him from there deposited him at the Kituma transit centre, more than 250 km from his home town of Maquela do Zombo, in the north of Uige province.

"When I arrived here I understood that in terms of the peace accord this was a transit area, and within two or three days I would be able to move on to my home area," he told IRIN.

Kituma is a collection of simple brick houses sprawling across a hillside on the edge of Uige city, and was originally built to house displaced people. Since late last year the population has grown to around 1,000 as increasing numbers of ex UNITA soldiers and their families have arrived - and stayed.

United Nations staff blame the situation on the failure of different provincial authorities to co-ordinate their operations. Trucking the soldiers from gathering areas to transit centres was the task of the authorities in the province where they had been living. But it is the authorities in the home province who are responsible for transporting people to hundreds of home villages scattered throughout the province.

Pedro is another ex-UNITA soldier, originally from Bembe in Uige province, who was also in the Madimbe gathering area before being brought by truck to Kituma.

"We thought that when we arrived here we would be demobilised and everyone would get what he needed - we arrived here and are already here for nearly two months - now they are telling us that demobilisation will only happen later - they should have told us that before, that demobilisation would not happen in January," he said.

Technically, the UNITA soldiers were indeed demobilised last September. But when Pedro talks about "demobilisation" he is referring to the distribution of "demobilisation kits" - the package of tools and other household items that was promised to UNITA's men as part of the peace accord, to enable them to make a new start in their home areas. Few of these kits have been delivered.

The production of kits began earlier this year after a six-month delay, but only 500 are being manufactured each week. At such a rate, it will take nearly four years to supply a kit to every former UNITA soldier.

According to the 4 April peace accord between the government and UNITA, the gathering areas - or quartering areas as they were previously known - were to have been emptied by October 2002. Instead, it was around that time that the population peaked at around 45,000. About 100,000 people have since left, but most of them without the promised assistance.

Earlier this month, the World Food Programme's (WFP) director in Angola, Francisco Roque Castro, admitted that the government's plans for the reintegration of UNITA combatants "did not materialise in the way that was expected". In the gathering areas themselves, frustration is mounting.

"We have been here a long time - we want to go back to our areas of origin," said Patricio, who spent 20 years fighting for UNITA and has spent the last nine months at Uamba, a gathering area about 150-km east of the city of Uige. "I am from Huambo [in central Angola]- I have been in the north a long time, since 1987. We are waiting for the government to fulfil the promises it undertook."

Of Uamba's population of 13,000, only 500 have started their journey home, according to UNITA officials in the camp. But in the Kituma transit centre, people are starting to wish they had never left the gathering areas.

Said one former soldier: "People left behind the vegetable gardens and maize fields they had been cultivating in the quartering areas - we don't have that here in the city."

The ex-UNITA combatants at Kituma are now living alongside people whom they once faced across the battle lines. Samuel Antonio has been at Kituma since 1997, when UNITA attacks forced him to leave his home area of Buengas, in the east of Uige province.

"We who were on the side of the government were attacked by our colleagues who are now here together with us," is how he describes the situation.

Yet despite this history, there has been surprisingly little enmity between the residents of Kituma.

"There's no conflict between them because they are all so angry with the government," one aid official said.

But it is the humanitarian staff themselves who have sometimes become the targets of this anger. In one incident, residents threw stones at a visiting WFP team, and female WFP staff were kept away from the site for several weeks being jeered at and threatened. Food distributions now take place under police guard.


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