Press Briefing by Chairman of Security Council Angola Committee

At a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon, Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Fowler, who chairs the Security Council Committee concerning the situation in Angola, told correspondents that the Committee's expert panel possessed the names of people, countries and government officials involved in the situation there and was currently verifying them before making them public.
Mr. Fowler, who was in Angola last week to interview witnesses and investigate the ongoing conflict, noted that he had released relevant testimony he had received to the panel, which was expected to provide its recommendations by the end of February. He stressed that the Angolan Government had cooperated with his delegation and that there had been no indications that the witnesses, who had been brought in from all parts of the country, had been coerced. The Department of Public Information has produced a 27-minute video on the mission and copies would be available shortly.

A correspondent asked about the credibility of the witnesses and the charges they had made. Mr. Fowler responded that members of the panel who had accompanied him on the mission had been able to corroborate the testimony. He had also received more specific allegations on the issue of sanctions and would present his recommendations in March, after the panel had done so. He added that he hoped the Council would begin acting on those recommendations in April.

Another correspondent asked if there had been a shift in focus on the situation in Angola since it had begun receiving attention some 25 years ago. Mr. Fowler stated that he had clearly suggested that Jonas Savimbi would not be able to maintain the war if he did not receive military assistance. From the moment Savimbi had walked away from the 1992 elections, which had been declared free and fair by the United Nations, he had obviously begun to prepare for war. Consequently, the Security Council, as well as the international community, had been treating that civil war differently from others.

Another correspondent asked if Mr. Fowler agreed with a statement by the Dutch Ambassador that the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) -- the rebel group that Savimbi headed -- was a factor in Angolan society with a continuing role to play, with respect also to the issue of sending a message that trying to achieve a military solution was wrong.

Mr. Fowler responded that his job was to enforce a very clear set of regulations in accordance with international legislation and Security Council mandates, which were unequivocal. There was no doubt those only applied to UNITA and Savimbi and there was no doubt about their intent. The international community was insistent on deterring UNITA's ability to make war. Nothing had been said about its ability to be a political party. It had lost interest in the political process when they did not win the last election. Therefore, UNITA's ability to pursue a non-political solution is the business of the international community, which has been clear about how they would like to see that constrained.

A correspondent asked for clarification of reports that foreign governments were not involved in the conflict. Mr. Fowler said that the testimony from a general who had been responsible for handling the faction's logistics for three years had revealed that UNITA had not bought arms from governments, but from brokers. The group would tender their requirements to the international arms markets and those would be supplied by interested brokers, who agreed to be paid with diamonds. Therefore, what was being stated was that they did not purchase arms from foreign governments, but from international brokers. The possibility remained that sanctions had been violated by outside governments in the areas of travel, diplomatic contacts, and arms and petroleum.

What were the circumstances surrounding the defectors? another correspondent asked. Mr. Fowler said he had offered to meet with those persons in any place and at any time. However, the Angolan Foreign Minister had suggested that those meetings be held in the almost deserted headquarters of the United Nations Mision of Observers in Angola (MONUA) outside of Luanda. That was indicative that the Government perceived that the lives of the defectors might be at risk. All the defectors were members of the Angolan armed forces.

Replying to a question on what measures the Council was taking until April to deal with the situation, he said he hoped that the Security Council meeting held in the morning had served fair notice that the spotlight had become brighter on persons who would violate the international role in Angola. Also, the Government of Angola had denied UNITA access to some of the country's largest airports in the highlands, thus diminishing the amount of territory available to the group and hampering its ability to receive supplies.

A correspondent observed that information from the interviews done during the mission had upset some initial presumptions. Mr. Fowler agreed, noting that the most evident one had been that UNITA's arsenal was predominantly Eastern European. However, the question that remained was where the international arms brokers obtained that weaponry for their packages. What had been described was a sophisticated international arms competition and delivery system.

Responding to questions on the plane crash in Angola a few years ago in which United Nations staff members had been killed, Mr. Fowler said dealing with that event was not within his mandate. He had only made inquiries of the witnesses, when he realized they could provide eyewitness testimony to facts leading up to the crash.