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HEADQUARTERS PRESS BRIEFING BY SPECIAL ADVISER ON AFRICA

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

21 May 2002

While the prospect of a return to war was almost zero, the humanitarian situation in Angola was serious and potentially destabilizing, Ibrahim Gambari, Special Adviser on Africa, told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press briefing.

On the positive side, the ceasefire signed on 4 April in Luanda was holding, he noted. On the other hand, the humanitarian situation was very serious, particularly in the 38 “quartering” areas provided for in the Memorandum of Understanding where 55,000 National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) troops and 300,000 of their family members were supposed to be quartered.

The prospects for peace were better now that they had been at any other time, but “we must not be complacent and we must make sure we get this quartering right”, he stressed. It must be ensured that the quartering areas did not become death camps.

Among the problems was that the Angolan Government had underestimated the enormous challenges of providing for 55,000 UNITA soldiers and 300,000 of their family members. They needed food, shelter and medicine. The latest figures showed that 65,343 UNITA soldiers had arrived along with 163,819 family members. In addition, 8,800 more soldiers and 7,000 family members were still expected. Phase I of the peace process was supposed to last for 262 days but within a month, a total of 229,162 soldiers and family members had already been quartered.

A second problem was that the role of the United Nations in Phase I of the peace process, while important, was subordinate. It was essentially an observer and a member of the Joint Military Commission. The third issue was one of access. The United Nations did not have access to the quartering areas. Fourthly, there was no framework agreement as to the responsibilities of the United Nations and those of the Angolan Government regarding the provision of services to those in the quartering areas.

Nonetheless, the United Nations did have a contingency plan, he noted. Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain would be leading an inter-agency mission to Angola from 8 to 14 June to assess the needs there. Also, Mr. Gambari and Kenzo Oshima, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, planned to go to Angola next month to launch an emergency humanitarian appeal in tandem with the Government.

In addition, the Secretary-General was preparing a reply to a letter from President Dos Santos, who had asked for technical and management assistance and resources for the quartering areas. Also, the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council, currently in preparation, would now define a new mandate for the United Nations in view of the changed circumstances.

Yesterday, he said, there had been a meeting of the Inter-sectoral Commission with the United Nations and the “Troika” -- United States, Russian Federation and Portugal -- on how to respond to the dire situation in the camps. One result of that meeting was the decision to meet with the Joint Military Commission to share information, and constitute a technical group to assess the needs and prepare concrete proposals to ensure success of the quartering process.

Responding to a question on the reorganization of UNITA in light of the suspension of the travel ban on UNITA members by the Security Council, Mr. Gambari said that what was needed was a united UNITA that would be a credible interlocutor in the peace process. By the time UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi died, there were four “UNITAs” in the field. Today, those four had been reduced to two. He believed that the suspension of the travel ban would further encourage the movement towards a single UNITA under a single leadership.

Asked to elaborate on the proposed new mandate for the United Nations, he said that the current mandate, that of the United Nations Office in Angola (UNOA), was very narrow. It was to provide help for capacity-building and human rights and to mobilize resources for humanitarian assistance.

It was also an observer with the Joint Military Commission, he continued. In addition, the United Nations had been asked to provide assistance in the quartering process. In Phase II, the United Nations would assume the role of the Chairman of the Joint Commission to examine the implementation of the outstanding issues under the Lusaka Protocol. All of that involved a number of new responsibilities, which required an adjustment of the mandate.

He added that the United Nations was also supposed to provide 11 military observers and perhaps non-military observers, possible electoral assistance in light of the elections planned for 2004. Another pillar would have to deal with demobilization, disarmament and reintegration.

What could the United Nations do to ensure that some of Angola’s oil revenue reached its poor people, asked one correspondent. The United Nations, stated Mr. Gambari, had always encouraged the Angolan Government to have appropriate agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which had a staff-monitored programme with Angola.

Unfortunately, he said, that programme had lapsed and he was trying to get the Government to renew it, as it provided for transparency in Government spending and more spending on social welfare than on war. Also, the Government had asked the Secretary-General to help convene an international donor conference to mobilize resources for emergency needs and for medium- and long-term reconstruction.

On why a stable Angola was important, he said that an Angola at peace would also be a force for peace in the subregion. With its potential wealth and good army, Angola could be a force for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Great Lakes region. He added that the prospects for peace in Angola were greater now because those who were doing the fighting were exhausted. More and more people were coming to the quartering areas opting for help. The population was fed up with war and it would be difficult for the Government or UNITA to recruit fresh fighters for a resumption of the conflict.

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