Angola + 3 more

Angola: IRIN Special Report on the Angolan crisis

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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
JOHANNESBURG, 20 January (IRIN) - From the chamber of the UN Security Council, Whitehall in London, and to the remote villages along Angola's borders with Namibia and Zambia, the impact of Angola's 26-year civil war is being felt far beyond its borders.

Inside the country, as fighting rages between UNITA rebels and Angolan soldiers conscripted by fresh government decrees broadcast on radio and television every few months, 3.7 million people are considered war-affected. According to the latest UN figures presented this week to the Security Council by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in its discussion on Angola, two million of these people are internally displaced. Hundreds of thousands of others have fled fighting to swell the ranks of refugees in neighbouring countries.

As the debate in New York turned to the sanctions issue with a presentation by Canadian Ambassador Robert Fowler, Chairman of the UN Angola Sanctions Committee, more people were crossing the borders; reports of fighting with claims and counter-claims by both sides were aired. And landmines, the scourge of Angola, were reportedly being laid anew.

Analysts in Namibia and Zambia have told IRIN repeatedly in the past six weeks that they are concerned at the way the conflict is now starting to involve its neighbours to a greater or lesser degree. It is, said Henning Melber, director of the Namibia Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU), a spread of the venom by which governments or individuals are smeared, depending on whether they are perceived as supporting UNITA or the government. It is this venom which has repeatedly brought the debate on Angola to an impasse or deadlock at both the regional and wider international level.

A new level of outspokenness

Twice this week, as the world body focused on the Angola crisis in an attempt to give the debate new urgency, senior officials were outspoken. Ambassador Fowler presented a videotape at the Security Council of private discussions he had held with UNITA defectors who said the movement's leader, Jonas Savimbi, had personally ordered the shooting down of two UN aircraft in central Angola just over a year ago. He further threatened to disclose, after thorough examination in coming weeks, the names of individuals and companies ferrying weapons and munitions to UNITA in violation of UN sanctions.

In London, Peter Hain, the British foreign office minister responsible for African affairs, told parliament this week he would refer the names of three people believed to have violated sanctions to Fowler's committee. The three had been flying fuel, weapons and munitions to UNITA airfields in Angola.

He said these activities were "widely known in the region". A big Soviet-era Ilyushin 76 cargo aircraft used by one of them was impounded in Zambia last year. He described the three as a Belgian, a South African of Portuguese origin, and a Ukrainian. Hain said that if they had the political will, European nations, the United States and Angola's neighbours could bring the Angolan war to an end. "The sanctions, with fuel being flown in and arms being flown in, are being breached almost daily," he said. "If UN sanctions are to mean anything, they must bite and Britain is determined that they do so."

The crisis inside Angola

As the UN still awaits word from Angola on the opening of a new office in the capital Luanda, following the departure last year of UN peacekeepers, Annan, who blamed the resumption of the civil war squarely on UNITA, told the Security Council human rights monitors in Angola had been forced to curtail their activities. Citing "daunting challenges" to strengthening the rule of law and press freedom, he said the security situation had also "seriously constrained" international humanitarian work in Angola.

Landmine incidents had increased "dramatically", he said. Between January and November last year, Annan said 409 civilians, mostly women, had fallen victim to landmines on their way to or from wells and farmland. "Mine clearance has been curtailed since donors suspended their assistance to this programme owing to the state of war," he said. "Yet it is of critical importance that international support extended to such programmes, in order to ensure the safe resumption of agricultural and commercial activities." He hoped donors would respond generously to the UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Angola which this year amounts to US $259 million.

The regional impact

But it is in neighbouring countries where the crisis is now being felt. Since the start of a concerted government effort to drive UNITA out of traditional strongholds in the country's central highlands and further south and west, which Annan outlined in detail, new waves of refugees have been crossing into Zambia and Namibia.

Namibia

In Namibia, in late November for the first time in the decade since independence, refugees fleeing fighting along Angola's southern borders started pouring across. To date, according to UNHCR figures, they number over 7,000. But the tensions in Namibia are high because the government of President Sam Nujoma granted Angola the right early last month to launch attacks from Namibian territory under terms of a mutual defence pact.

Melber, the NEPRU director, said the government had probably hoped the drive against UNITA by Angolan armed forces from Namibian territory would be over quickly. Instead the issue had driven a wedge between the government, and its critics in the human rights community, the media and opposition parties as daily headlines of human rights abuses and retaliatory attacks by alleged UNITA insurgents take their toll.

Scores of Namibian villagers have been killed in cross-border raids since early December when Nujoma's government was returned to power for a third five-year term with a 76 percent victory at the polls. The toll has included three French tourists visiting the lush game parks of the northeast Caprivi Strip who were ambushed three weeks ago by armed men in camouflage uniforms. Four Namibians, three of them nurses, travelling in a mini-van along the same stretch of road were gunned down in a similar ambush at the weekend.

The Namibian National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) has issued reports saying the Angolan army has been recruiting Namibian nationals, often by force. This week, its director, Phil ya Nangoloh cited the arrest of five Namibian nationals who absconded from an Angolan army "mercenary camp" in Calai just across the border as proof that the two countries are recruiting mercenaries to fight UNITA rebels. The society said it was investigating allegations that two of the men had since been deported to Calai, in spite of the fact they were Namibians.

"People living outside Namibia who read the Namibian print media should be forgiven if they believe that our country is up in flames," said a statement last week by Acting Foreign Minister Tuliameni Kalomoh. "In recent months and weeks, the government of Namibia has been subjected to a barrage of all manner of vitriolic propaganda by the print media." In one of the only public announcements on the crisis, he accused local print media of sympathising with UNITA by withholding crucial information about their movements from the Namibian security forces. The print media, he added should be "patriotic". Instead, they were acting as a "fifth column". In recent days, Ya Nangoloh himself has been branded a "traitor" and UNITA "sympathiser".

Newspaper editors, the NSHR and opposition politicians told IRIN they had repeatedly sought answers to questions on the border situation from the government, but the authorities had preferred not to comment other than blame most attacks in Namibian territory on UNITA.

"The venom of Angola is poisoning Namibia," said Melber. "It is a pity and it is really worrying. We should be proud of our media for taking up issues of concern and I'm afraid that again, it is the proverbial messengers who are being punished and they are speaking out of loyalty and patriotism."

UN human rights monitors based in Angola, diplomats said, have been monitoring reports from Namibian groups of atrocities along the southern border by the army and UNITA, but they are powerless to investigate them because they do not have access to the region, and because their mandate is complicated by the fact that Luanda is yet to give a final green light to the opening of a new UN office in Angola.

Zambia

Neighbouring Zambia has so far managed to keep out of the conflict. Over the past six weeks, according to UNHCR figures, an estimated 21,000 Angolans have poured across Zambia's southwest borders to areas west of the upper Zambezi river where heavy annual rains have now rendered roads all but impassable. "With fighting raging across the border, we are expecting more to come in, and access to them in this area is very difficult with the rains having rendered major routes virtually impassable," said Hans Jensen-Fengel of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), UNHCR's humanitarian implementing partner in Zambia.

The recent influx has swelled the number of Angolans seeking refuge in Zambia to about 160,000 people, prompting the government this week to call on relief agencies to make extra efforts to bring relief. WFP told IRIN it had dispatched a logistics officer to Zambia to arrange food airlifts to the nearest Zambezi valley landing field at Mongu, some 90 km inland from the Angolan border.

"Many of the people coming have been maimed by landmines, some are blind, there are many women and elder people and they are unable to look after themselves," said Foreign Minister Keli Walubita, after visiting the area at the weekend. "There is no clean water or other facilities."

For these reasons, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will visit the area next week where she will meet some of the new refugees and discuss ways of getting urgent relief to them.

"We have lived with the consequences of the crisis in Angola for over a generation now," a senior Zambian official told IRIN. "As we check reports of UNITA insurgents conducting hit-and-run against eight villages raids across our western border in recent days, during which they left landmines to hamper pursuit, you can see how our security situation has become complicated. We need to move the refugees away from the border."

The country's president, Frederick Chiluba told a news conference Zambia would hit back at rebels if they continued such attacks. However, he stressed Zambia would remain neutral in the conflict. Zambian diplomats interpreted his words as meaning that Zambia will not do what Namibia has done and give the Angolan government the right to use Zambian territory as a springboard against UNITA rebels.

The future

The regional power, South Africa, and Zambia, according to officials questioned by IRIN, see negotiations by the Angolan protagonists as the only way out of the crisis towards a lasting peace.

Namibia and Zimbabwe have both sent military intervention forces to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to help President Laurent-Desire Kabila against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda. The spread of the Angolan conflict, according to diplomats, has now complicated matters further in the region.

"Since the Congo, and now with Angola, we are witnessing a worrisome process of increased militarisation of the region," said Melber. "It is coupled with a deepening rift between two camps in the region. If this cannot be halted in the near future, all talk of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and regional integration is just wishful thinking."

[ENDS]

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