British troops for Angola peace force

With Britain expected to announce a contribution of up to one battalion, the United Nations Security Council last night authorised the deployment of a peace-keeping force to Angola.

The vote, passed unanimously, came at the end of a marathon debate at UN headquarters in New York, attended by foreign ministers from 10 African states anxious to underline the importance of the mission.

More than 7,000 troops will be sent to the southern African state, which is struggling to maintain a fragile peace after more than three decades of fierce fighting. The UN force, UNAVEM III, will also include 350 military observers and 260 civilians.

Although final details were still to be concluded, diplomatic sources indicated that Britain would pledge 650 troops. Their role would be restricted to logistical support, and their stay limited to a few months. The main contributors to the core infantrycomponent will be Brazil, Uruguay, India, Pakistan, Romania and Zimbabwe. According to the UN resolution, the operation will end after two years, or earlier if the ceasefire fails to stick.

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, recommended UN action in Angola on the basis of a peace accord signed between the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and the Unita movement, led by Jonas Savimbi, in Lusaka, Zambia, last November. UN observers in Angola report that the ceasefire between the two sides appears to be holding.

Suggestions from Mr Savimbi that he may still have doubts about the UN intervention are largely dismissed by UN officials. It is thought unlikely that Unita could withstand any further military campaigns and Mr Savimbi seems to have little choice but to embrace a UN presence.

Angola has been devastated by the years of warfare, fuelled during the Cold War by the superpowers taking opposing sides. Almost as large as Britain, France and Spain combined, its infrastructure has all but collapsed, while roughly 35 per cent of its inhabitants are homeless Moreover, an estimated 10 million landmines present an immediate risk to UN personnel.

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