Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, has recommended that the organisation's 1,000 military observers in Angola leave the country, saying the resumption of civil war and attacks on UN personnel by the warring sides makes their presence useless.
Mr Annan's decision was not entirely unexpected after the resumption of all-out fighting between government forces and rebel Unita troops and the recent downing of two UN-chartered planes with 23 people on board.
But the 26-page report issued to the Security Council was unusual in two respects. It was severely critical of the warring parties, and at the same time an admission of the abysmal failure of UN efforts over recent years.
To some of the UN personnel on the ground, Mr Annan's proposal came as a shock. Angola, according to Issa Diallo, who was assigned the job as UN special representative in Luanda, was "the UN's most important peacekeeping mission in Africa". But to most observers, it was clear that the UN now has another failure to add to the recent debacles in Somalia and Rwanda.
The incompetence of the UN's observer mission in Angola is not the main reason for the country's return to civil war. The government, led by President Eduardo dos Santos, has been fighting Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebels for almost 25 years. In 1994, the UN brokered a halt to the fighting, and there were hopes that the war was over, but it is clear there was never a commitment to the compromises required for peace on either side.
Corrupt and autocratic, Mr dos Santos has used his position to rake in as much cash as possible from his oil-rich coastline, which produces upwards of $3bn a year. He and Mr Savimbi have also milked Angola's vast diamond resources to buy arms and mercenaries from whoever will sell. Those who know Mr dos Santos say he will never do as the UN wishes and share power.
Mr Diallo of the UN told journalists yesterday morning that peace was achieved for four years under the terms of the Lusaka protocol. "There is no reason for the UN to be bitter," he said. "We have done a good job." He then went on to list the achievements: elections, a government of national unity, a national army including elements from both sides and a multi- party political system.
There is a government of national unity by name only. At the end of last year, the government bought out former Savimbi loyalists to form Unita Renovada, or the new Unita. The "party" had its first congress last week, during which it expelled Mr Savimbi, and elected Eugenio Manuvakola as its leader. In the past 10 days, five Unita parliamentarians who had refused to be bought out by Mr dos Santos were arrested in Luanda. Another, the minister of health, Ruben Sicato, was fired on the last day of the sham congress.
Angola has two centres of power - one in the capital, Luanda, the other in the bush in the central highlands. It has two armies - the government's Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), the other Unita guerrillas - and two leaders, Mr dos Santos and Mr Savimbi. Any solution to Angola's problems must take account of this reality.
The worst fighting has been around Huambo, where 80,000 refugees have swelled the population to 280,000; Kuito, where the 150,000 population includes 55,000 refugees; and Malanje, where 70,000 refugees are among an estimated 200,000 people. According to the refugees, atrocities against civilians are commonplace.
More than $1.5bn has been spent by the UN in Angola in the name of peacekeeping, and the country is back where it was before any of this money was spent.
A senior consultant working with the UN, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Independent: "I earn upwards of $130,000 a year [pounds 80,000]. I work a nine-to-five job." He admitted he had not achieved much, but said there were compensations: "There are so many bureaucratic problems at the UN, but it's good money."
It is clear neither side has any respect for the UN; neither side cares what the UN thinks of it or says to it; and the UN is too frightened of Dos Santos and Savimbi to be any bolder than a lap-dog. This was illustrated when the president gave a speech to the diplomatic corps last Friday. With a smile he told the throng of international representatives that the UN must go when its mandate ends on 26 February. With impressive accuracy, he added: "The situation in Angola is a typical example of failed diplomacy and biased judgements." For once he got it right.Reuse content