Now that there is a cease-fire and peace accord in Angola, relief and development agencies are desperately trying to reach beleaguered populations previously cut off by the fighting.
The Lucusse Road has been the scene of heavy fighting for decades. Many years ago, between Cuban and South African forces, and over much of the last decade between the Government and UNITA forces. The road is littered with trucks and armoured vehicle wrecks destroyed in anti-tank mine blasts and ambushes. It is said that over six thousand soldiers died here trying to get convoys of supplies in and out of Luena.
Yesterday, MAG staff met with UTCAH (Angolan Office for Technical Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance). They explained to MAG that Lucusse will have to be used as a quartering area for 4,000 UNITA soldiers to disarm. Whilst the Lucusse Road has been closed, thousands of families have not received aid of any sort. The World Food Programme, MINARS (Angolan Ministry of Social Assistance and Rehabilitation) and the UN all agreed that the major demining priority in the province was this road.
Following this meeting MAG undertook an emergency survey of the road to see how much the situation had changed since 1997/98. During this brief period of peace, MAG cleared and surveyed 92 kilometres of the 148km route.
On the survey it became clear that there were no new vehicle wrecks since that time, however, using the route still requires extreme care. The survey team was able to travel to Lucusse where they met with the Police Commandant and UNITA officials who explained they were desperate for food and other emergency aid.
MAG teams returned today to clear and destroy several items of UXO which were seen on the road. Areas where vehicles will have to travel off the edge of the road, due to mine craters or vehicle wrecks, will also be checked for mines. MAG has made it clear that all drivers intending to use the route must first attend a mine safety briefing conducted by MAG beforehand. Although it can be safe to use the road, any deviation from tracks of the previous vehicle may lead to a fatal mine accident.
MAG conducted this emergency clearance due to the grave humanitarian situation. It is reported that 38% of the children in this area are severely malnourished. It is hoped that funding can be raised to enable complete clearance of the verges and other suspect areas along the route.