'Raw deal' for UN in Angola

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'I WAKE up each morning not knowing what is going to happen today,' a frustrated senior United Nations official said after Angola's first general elections last month. That sums up the dilemma the UN faces in trying to assist the birth of a democracy at the end of one of Africa's most bitter conflicts, when it is lacks the authority required to ensure success.

To say that the elections were a failure would be an injustice to the 16-month effort by hundreds of thousands of Angolans and UN officials who worked to make the elections possible. The UN effort involved the use of 40 helicopters, nine fixed-wing aircraft, five million litres of fuel, and 300 pilots and mechanics. And ultimately, the charges by opposition leader Jonas Savimbi that President Jose Eduardo dos Santos's government had rigged the polls proved unfounded.

Nevertheless, the 800 election observers, whom the UN and other international groups placed throughout the country to monitor 4.8 million voters at nearly 6,000 polling stations, were clearly not enough. For example, just two observers were assigned to watch the 84 polling stations in the isolated municipality of Mavinga in the south-eastern province of Cuando Cubango.

The problem, according to one senior Western envoy, was that the international community wanted to bring peace and democracy to Angola 'on the cheap'. It is an issue the United Nations must now address urgently, with a run-off vote ensured after President dos Santos's failure to win more than 50 per cent of the vote (he won 49.5 per cent and Mr Savimbi 40 per cent).

A similar peace process is under way in another former Portuguese colony, Mozambique, where President Joaquim Chissano has called for a UN role in the ceasefire, and elections to settle a 16-year civil war between the Frelimo government and Afonso Dhlakama's Mozambique National Resistance movement (Renamo). There are also signs that the UN may be called upon in South Africa.

That the polls in Angola took place in relative peace was remarkable. A vast country, nearly two-thirds the size of Western Europe, it has suffered immense destruction throughout the civil war, fed by superpower rivalry and South African invasions. But once the trouble started, as many observers predicted it would, the UN was not well placed to deal with it.

The root of the UN's weakness in Angola can be found in the Bicesse peace accords of May 1991, brokered by the United States, Portugal and the former Soviet Union. The Angolan government, effectively the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), insisted that it maintain sovereignty over the electoral process. Key issues, such as the ceasefire and demobilisation and integration of the two warring armies, were left to a joint commission of the MPLA and Mr Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita).

When disputes broke out, the UN could at best cajole the two mutually suspicious sides. 'There is a growing consensus that if the United Nations decides to participate in peace and electoral processes, then it must have far greater control, and the West must be prepared to pay for it,' said a senior UN official.

Even though the results are out and Mr dos Santos and Mr Savimbi have agreed to settle their differences through talks, the two armies are still far from demobilised, especially Mr Savimbi's Unita fighters. The integrated Angolan Armed Forces, formally created out of former opposing forces just two days before the voting, have effectively collapsed because of Mr Savimbi's decision on 5 October to withdraw his main generals in protest against the alleged fraud.

Shooting erupted between supporters of the Unita and MPLA parties yesterday after the announcement of the MPLA's election victory, Reuter reports. One person was feared dead, police said.

(Photograph omitted)