By Zoe Eisenstein
LUANDA, (Reuters) - Former Angolan rebel group UNITA, which fought 27 years of war, must now evolve into an opposition party that can take on one-time foes at the ballot box, the man widely tipped as the party's next leader told Reuters.
UNITA elections chief Isaias Samakuva said the party needed to forge a new political future as the major opposition party, but added that he saw reconciliation between Angola's previously warring factions as key to the country's rehabilitation.
"When we talk about national reconciliation we have really to mean it," he said in an interview.
Since UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in a government ambush a year ago, prompting the end of the war, UNITA has started reforming itself as a political party, calling for wealth redistribution and claiming the support of rural Angolans.
The war between Angolan factions in the former Portuguese colony killed around a million people, displaced millions of others and forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries as impoverished refugees.
The end of the war offered hope to these displaced people, but also left the task of reintegrating former combatants.
With some 110,000 former UNITA fighters still living in quartering areas around the country, Samakuva said bringing its former soldiers back into society was a task to be shared.
"I do consider that this shouldn't be solely a UNITA concern but a national concern," Samakuva said.
He added that to untangle the country's refugee problems Angola needed to get its agricultural sector back on its feet.
AGRICULTURAL REVIVAL CRUCIAL
"We should now try to bring people back to their areas of origin and find a way to try to keep them there. In this sense, the agricultural sector would be crucial...I think an economy based on agriculture in our country is a strategic matter.
"People are still struggling without the opportunity to get jobs or accommodation...Equal opportunities or a better distribution of the wealth - all these are material factors that help the process of national reconciliation," he added.
Samakuva said his party would stand a good chance in all-party general elections. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has pledged to call a vote as early as next year, although many politicians have said that would be premature.
"If UNITA works hard towards the aspirations of the people and it accomplishes its role in Angola, I really do believe in a UNITA victory (in general elections)," Samakuva said.
Angola's last elections were held in 1992, during a brief lull in the fighting. Although international observers found them to be free and fair, UNITA complained of bias and swiftly returned to war.
UNITA will choose a new leader at a congress in May or June.
Samakuva, UNITA's representative in Paris between September 1998 and October 2002, is seen by observers as likely to take over as the party's secretary general and head at the congress.
After Savimbi's death, and that of his deputy nine days later, General Paulo Lukamba 'Gato' became UNITA's secretary general, but he has said he will not defend the position.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet