Angola peace blocked by 'war and jaw': Richard Dowden analyses Unita's two-prong strategy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ON ONE wall of the office of the Unita representative in London there was a map of Angola showing the extent of Unita advances. On the other, a picture of Jonas Savimbi, the Unita leader, greeting Ronald Reagan at the White House. That was 1986.

The map is still there, with most of the country shaded 'under Unita control', but the picture of Mr Savimbi and Mr Reagan has been replaced by one of Mr Savimbi greeting Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos - the one moment of potential peace in 30 years of war.

That moment dissolved when Unita forces went back to war after Mr Savimbi rejected the results of the election last September. Now Unita has a two-prong strategy again, symbolised by the map and the picture: war and jaw. Last week it captured Huambo, the provincial capital of the central highlands and a symbolic and strategic city for Mr Savimbi. It is estimated that 12,000 people died in the fighting and now the battle is on for the route to the coast: Unita would dearly like to capture a port for access to the world.

But Unita is also pursuing the talks option. Late last month, as the battle for Huambo raged, the two sides were supposed to meet in Addis Ababa under UN auspices. But Unita failed to show. Now Mr Savimbi wants to talk again and a Unita delegation is being dispatched to Europe to explain its new position.

Unita is demanding that the government disband its 'anti- riot' police which it claims is made up of government soldiers who should have been disbanded under the peace agreement. It is also demanding the release of some 2,000 people who it says are in prison or restricted. Mr Savimbi has also demanded the sacking of Margaret Anstee, the UN Special Representative, and a change of venue for talks.

If talks happen Unita wants to discusEs a power-sharing interim government and a longer-term decentralTHER write errorised government that would give greater powers, even autonomy, to the regions. Unita, however, quashes any suggestion of secession by the south: it wants one Angola. Above all, Unita is trying to put forward statesmanlike proposals that make it look like a serious interlocutor at the top table.

But the Angola equation is no longer about a deal which can be bargained over. It is about trust. And the government in Luanda no longer trusts Unita after the post-election events - if it ever did. The government is sceptical about talks, and counter-demands that Unita must abide by the peace agreement and disband its army. The world agrees it was Unita that restarted the war.

The government is seeking to rearm its own forces. Under the Bicesse Accords of 1991 there is an arms embargo on all parties, but Russia, Portugal and Spain are pressing to have this lifted and there is evidence that business elements in South Africa, and possibly junior members of the armed forces, are providing both sides with assistance.

Washington opposes any change in the arms embargo. It is banking on the hope that both sides will realise sooner or later that neither can win militarily and they will have to return to the peace process. Washington has little credibility left in Angola. It backed Unita for years and then forced the election to go ahead before the peace agreement had been properly implemented. Unita now feels abandoned and the US has little leverage left with its former ally.

With the Luanda government it still has the recognition card. It is still withholding recognition of the government even though the government has fought and won a multi-party election. The thinking in Washington appears to be that recognition is a card to be played once peace is restored.

There is little else that the rest of the world can do to force the two sides together. The United Nations is now standing on the sidelines asking for talks, but it is powerless. Even South Africa, which throughout the 1980s kept the war going to keep its neighbours weak and divided, now has a commercial interest in peace in Angola.

It is easy to blame Mr Savimbi, Washington or Pretoria for the mess Angola is in; it is more difficult to remove obstacles to peace. One is the personality of Mr Savimbi: he seems psychologically incapable of accepting second place. Another is the deep cultural differences between the coastal or town people, who mostly support the government, and the farmers of the central highlands who support Mr Savimbi.

The Angolan government, rich in oil, could easily accommodate regional devolution, but it will not allow Mr Savimbi a veto of war on the verdict of the ballot box. It will not allow Mr Savimbi a foothold in central government, and if Mr Savimbi fails to recognise this war will lead to famine in Angola. The World Food Programme says 3 million people are at risk of starvation through war in Angola. If they die, their deaths will not be 'the consequence of war' but the responsibility of one man.

----------------------------------------------------------------- COUNTRY PROFILE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Population (est): 10.6 million Area: 1.246,700 square kilometres Mineral resources: Oil, diamonds,iron,copper Agriculture: Coffee, food and cattle, plus extensive fisheries off the coast Former Portuguese colony. Liberation war turned to civil war at independence in 1975 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph and map omitted)