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Angola - Second Civil War - 1996-2002

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on April 4, 2002, between the government of Angola and UNITA brought an end to decades of fighting on the mainland of Angola. A struggle for independence from Portugal which began in the 1960s pitted three nationalist groups against each other for control of the country. With the departure of Portugal in 1975, one of these groups, the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, MPLA), took control of the capital. The two remaining groups joined in the fight against the MPLA government and the ensuing conflict between the MPLA and UNITA spanned some twenty-seven years. Support for the MPLA came from Cuba and the Soviet Union while the apartheid government of South Africa and the United States provided assistance to UNITA.

From 1975 until 2002, several efforts to cease hostilities were negotiated but ultimately fell apart. Following a first failed attempt in 1989, the Bicesse Accords signed in May 1991 brought peace to the country for over one year. During this time period, national elections were held with President dos Santos of the MPLA winning against UNITA candidate Jonas Savimbi. UNITA rejected the electoral results and the country returned to warfare in October 1992. UNITA territorial losses in the countryside during 1994 prompted further negotiations between the two sides which culminated in the signing of the Lusaka Protocol in November 1994.

The Lusaka Protocol, which brought an uneasy truce for four years, was marred by sporadic fighting and violations by the two sides. Both the government and UNITA continued to prepare for war during this time, procuring weapons through the sale of oil and diamonds, respectively. Although the United Nations established a Human Rights Division following the Lusaka Protocol, a lack of transparency and public reporting on violators of the agreement hampered the effectiveness of the division. Parties were rarely held accountable for human rights violations.

Jonas Savimbi was forced to sue for peace and sign the Lusaka Protocol in 1994, but the fighting slowly restarted in 1996. A United Nations peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Verification Mission for Angola (UNAVEM III) was present between February 1995 and June 1997. Among the main features of UNAVEM III's mandate were the following: to provide Good Offices and mediation to the Angolan parties, to monitor and verify the extension of State administration throughout the country and the process of national reconciliation; to supervise, control and verify the disengagement of forces and to monitor the cease-fire.

UNAVEM III was also to assist in the establishment of quartering areas, to verify the withdrawal, quartering and demobilization of UNITA forces; to supervise the collection and storage of UNITA armaments; to coordinate, facilitate and support humanitarian activities directly linked to the peace process, as well as participating in mine-clearing activities; to declare formally that all essential requirements for the holding of the second round of the presidential election have been fulfilled, and to support, verify and monitor the electoral process.

On 11 April 1997 the Government of National Unity and Reconciliation (GURN) was formed in Angola. With this milestone, agreed to by the Government of Angola and UNITA when they signed the Lusaka Protocol in 1994, UNITA committed to transform itself from an armed opposition movement into a political party, working within a political system to build a stable, democratic Angola. In welcoming UNITA into the government, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos underscored his commitment to political pluralism and the ruling party's willingness to work constructively with its former adversaries, including UNITA President Dr. Jonas Savimbi. Angola has recognized UNITA as a legitimate political party able to operate within Angola.

The Joint Commission, which oversaw the implementation of the Lusaka Protocols, included representatives from the United Nations, the Angolan Government, UNITA, the Russian Federation, the United States and Portugal. The Joint Commission has supported a planby the UN peace mediator to resolve the crisis, which plan requires UNITA to give up control of the so-called sensitive areas of Andulo, Bailundo, Mungo and N'harea. It also requires the Angolan national police to end human rights abuses and the Government to stop broadcasting hostile propaganda.

On 30 June 1997, by adopting resolution 1118 (1997), the UN Security Council established United Nations Observer Mission in Angola [MONUA], to be operational as of 1 July 1997. Despite all efforts, however, the situation in the country continued to be tense. On 12 June 1998, the Security Council took action in resolution 1173(1998) condemning UNITA and holding its leadership responsible for its failure to implement fully its obligations contained in the Lusaka Protocol and relevant Security Council resolutions.

Full scale fighting between the government and UNITA resumed in 1998. By mid-1998 military actions by UNITA had resulted in a dramatic humanitarian and human rights situation, with 1,3 million people, or ten percent of the population displaced. The military and security situation in the country further deteriorated through 1998, and the risks of a resumption of full-scale hostilities increased significantly. UNITA forces continued to threaten Lunda Sul, Lunda Norte, Moxico, Uige and Cuanza Norte Provinces. Evidently, UNITA maintained a significant military capability, despite its past declarations on the demilitarization of its forces. On many occasions, UNITA "residual" troops were identified as being responsible for attacks on villages and towns, as well as ambushes on major roads. There were also incidents of selective killing and kidnapping in order to intimidate the population and dissuade it from cooperating with government authorities.

In December 1998 the Lusaka protocol collapsed and UNITA resumed armed struggle. The primary cause of the crisis in Angola was the failure by the leadership of UNITA to comply with its obligations under the Lusaka Protocol.

After the downing on 2 January 1999 of a second United Nations-chartered aircraft over territory controlled by UNITA, bringing to six the number of aircraft lost in this area in recent months, the Council - acting under Chapter VII of the Charter - demanded in resolution 1221(1999) of 12 January 1999, that all such attacks cease immediately; reaffirming its resolve to establish the truth about the circumstances of and to determine the responsibility for the downing of the two UN aircraft and the loss under suspicious circumstances of other commercial aircraft over UNITA controlled territory.

The government of Angola and UNITA rebels had shown no interest in halting military operations or returning to the negotiating table. Observing that the peace process in Angola had collapsed and the country found itself in a state of war, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated on 17 January 1999 that MONUA had no other option but to continue to reduce its presence and proceed with the orderly repatriation of UN personnel and property. By August at least two million people, more than one-sixth of the population, had been forced from their homes by the fighting and at least 200 were dying from starvation each day. A large-scale government offensive was launched on 14 September 1999 against UNITA positions in the provinces of Huambo, Bie, Malanje and Uige. In October 1999 UNITA forces, escaping the Angolan army's offensive against their strongholds of Bailundo and Andulo, moved into Moxico province. By November 1999 the civil war that restarted in June 1998 had spread to almost every major town in Angola.

By December 1999 the startling military offensive by the Angolan government reclaimed virtually all the territory it had lost to the UNITA rebels during the previous six months. On 24 December 1999 the Angolan army captured UNITA's former headquarters at Jamba, in south-east of Angola. Jamba -- which served as UNITA's headquarters from 1976 until 1991 -- was created by South Africa and the American CIA and while serving as UNITA's headquarters was carefully camouflaged to protect against air attacks. The other historic UNITA headquarters at Lumbala N'guimbo in Moxico province, was captured by Angolan forces in November 1999.

The confrontation intensified along the entire border between Zambia and Angola, and the Angolan army allegedly carried out a spree of indiscriminate attacks along its southern border with Namibia as it flushed UNITA rebels. This fighting spilled over into Namibia, and there were credible reports of Angolan forces shelling UNITA targets from within Namibia and UNITA retaliatory fire into Namibia. The attacks were in retaliation for the Namibian government's decision to allow the Angolan army to use facilities inside Namibia as it fights against UNITA.

UNITA leader Savimbi seemed to have abandoned some of his long-time positions without putting up much resistance. UNITA remains fully capable of waging a prolonged guerrilla war in the vast tracts of areas in Angola that are thick forest where no conventional warfare can be conducted. The MPLA’s position was that only the capture of veteran guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi would end the 26-year-old conflict, and the refusal to dialogue with Savimbi meant that international initiatives for conferences on peace and reconciliation were likely not win Luanda's warm embrace. Although the government has all but won the conventional war, it had been unable to stem UNITA's hit-and-run raids that condemn Angola's interior to continued insecurity -- fighting has already displaced one-third of Angolans.

The end of Angola's long and bloody civil war followed the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in a shoot-out with government troops. In late February 2002, Jonas Savimbi was shot dead by the Angolan government troops. A Portuguese television reporter who also saw Mr. Savimbi's corpse said he counted 15 bullet wounds on the rebel leader's body. More than 20 other UNITA officials, including two commanders, were also reported killed in the battle.

The death of Jonas Savimbi in February 2002 prompted UNITA to return to the negotiating table and his death removed one of the largest obstacles to peace.

Following this, a ceasefire was signed weeks later between the government and UNITA rebels. The parliament also approved an amnesty for rebels deciding to surrender. Demobilization got under way following the signing of a ceasefire accord. The accord provided for the United Nations and a so-called troika of peace observers consisting of the United States, Russia and former colonial power Portugal to take on an observation role and to provide technical experts.

By late July 2002 over 85,000 UNITA soldiers along with nearly 300,000 family members had reported to quartering areas around the country. Angolan military officials said the rebels have handed over thousands of weapons, including artillery pieces as well as small arms. The unexpectedly large numbers stretched the ability of the government and aid officials to assist the rebels and their families.

The final period of fighting between 1998 and 2002 was marked by widespread human rights violations by both sides. Government and UNITA fighters forcibly displaced civilians in an attempt to remove support to the opposition. Both groups targeted the civilian population, indiscriminately shelling civilian areas and mining the countryside. The government estimated that the number of displaced civilians doubled in this period to more than four million people, with an additional 435,000 refugees in neighboring countries. During these last four years of conflict, UNITA forces swept through villages abducting children and adults and pressing them into service. Government forces also staged recruitment drives where underage soldiers were conscripted. Despite the failures of past agreements, there is much promise that the current peace would last.

Since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in April 2002, there had been no outbreaks of fighting between the two groups, and the two sides, together with the population, appear committed to peace. UNITA officials have been incorporated into ministerial and ambassadorial posts. The demobilization process has gone forward with UNITA soldiers surrendering their arms and moving into camps. The absence of child soldiers, however, undermines the legitimacy of the demobilization program and may have some serious implications for future stability and public order.

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Page last modified: 30-04-2017 13:45:46 ZULU