Angola's army not prepared for polls: If the election process goes awry, government and Unita forces could wreck the peace plan. Richard Dowden, Africa Editor, reports

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The Independent Online
THE process of building a new army in Angola from government and rebel troops is badly behind schedule and cannot be completed by the election date less than three weeks away.

Military sources in Luanda said this week that only 1,500 re-trained soldiers had been sworn in out of a planned 40,000 for the new Armed Forces of Angola. Another 8,000 are trained and ready to be sworn in but the army will not be ready in time for the elections on 29 and 30 September and nor will the demobilisation of the former armies of the MPLA government and the Unita rebels be completed, a vital requirement of the Angolan peace plan.

Tens of thousands of government and Unita soldiers are still in their demobilisation camps scattered around the country. Officially they should have handed in their weapons to be stored in depots overseen by United Nations troops, but the organisation and discipline is reported to be lax and no one doubts that if the electoral process goes awry they could be reactivated.

The planned four-week courses run by Portuguese and British training officers for the soldiers of the new army have been cut to two weeks, so the troops get little more than political lectures on the new Angola and basic training. The process of demobilisation slowed down when the government formed a new riot police unit earlier this year which Unita claimed was a purely MPLA force.

Unita slowed down the demobilisation of its troops and the MPLA followed suit. The first week of the election campaign has revealed that although 18 parties have registered, the election will be a straight fight between the MPLA, formerly backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union which has ruled since 1985, and Unita, the rebel movement which was supported by South Africa and the United States.

Much will depend on the personal following of the two leaders; the technocratic and reasonable president Eduardo dos Santos and the charismatic and domineering Jonas Savimbi. The early rallies have shown that President dos Santos can pull the crowds but his party cannot.

If Unita wins, Mr Savimbi has already indicated privately that there are two members of the MPLA to whom he would be happy to give ministerial posts.

But if the MPLA wins the problem is what to do with Mr Savimbi. It is impossible to see him in the role of deputy to anybody and few observers feel that he will end his 30-year struggle for power by accepting defeat gracefully. 'Savimbi intends to get power in Angola by hook or by crook,' said one diplomat in Luanda.

The peace accords that have led to these elections were signed in May last year and brought to an end Angola's wars, which have lasted since the early 1960s when nationalist liberation movements began their struggles against Portuguese colonialism.

In the 1980s the country, potentially one of the richest in Africa, became a proxy superpower battleground with South Africa openly arming and fighting alongside Unita, and the Russians giving billions of dollars worth of arms to back the MPLA and support 50,000 Cuban troops there.

The election has demonstrated the intense enthusiasm of Angolans to vote. Already nearly 5 million people have registered, more than 90 per cent of the estimated total number of voters. There have been reports of near riots in places where registration had to stop because of lack of papers.

Many parts of the country have been barely under any control for the past few years while other areas, such as the central highlands, have been fought over in one of the most vicious of Africa's wars. Monitoring the 5,820 polling stations will be a nightmare for the small UN observer group.