UN despairs of Angola's see-saw war

MARGARET ANSTEE, the British UN special envoy to Angola, spends a lot of time waiting for telephone calls that she hopes will help stop the civil war.

The voice she wants to hear is that of Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), whose refusal to accept defeat in the country's first elections in September brought a poorly funded, UN-backed ceasefire and democracy plan crashing down into a renewal of the 16-year conflict.

Truces have been ignored and attempts to set up new negotiations rebuffed. The UN Angola Verification Mission (Unavem), which Ms Anstee heads, has closed 41 of its 67 monitoring stations throughout the country and more evacuations of military observers continued yesterday. 'You might be on a tragic see-saw,' Ms Anstee said in an interview. 'When one side is up they don't want to talk and when the other is up, they don't want to talk.' Last week the government had the initiative, but in recent days the see- saw has tilted in Unita's favour.

It has recovered from routs in several big towns last month to fight to a standstill government forces in the central highlands city of Huambo. On Tuesday, Unita captured the oil-producing city of Soyo. Oil accounts for 90 per cent of the income of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government.

Mr Savimbi had promised to strike at the government's main foreign-exchange earnings, oil and diamonds, and at Luanda. In the Soyo attacks, which destroyed several oil tanks, Unita captured 17 expatriate workers and another seven were reported missing. Three Britons were among them.

At least 10,000 people have been killed since polls closed on 30 September. In slums around many cities, vigilantes have pursued Unita militants in a campaign sometimes known as 'caca homen' (manhunt).

In 10 days the UN mandate, which Ms Anstee described as 'increasingly irrelevant', runs out. There are three options for the UN: a pull-out; the dispatch of thousands of UN troops with a role changed from observers to directly supervising the demobilisation of tens of thousands of soldiers; or a smaller mandate, what Ms Anstee called 'a holding pattern'.

What she does not want to happen is 'staggering on with declining influence and an irrelevant mandate'. A pull-out would be 'totally irresponsible and wrong', while the introduction of a large UN force would be impossible, given the present scale of fighting. Thus the most likely decision would be to reduce Unavem to a skeleton operation, mainly in the capital, and wait for the two sides to call with ceasefire proposals.

Many ordinary Angolans, who mistakenly believed that Unavem's role included powers to intervene, blame the UN for the crisis. Many diplomats blame both the Angolans and the weak UN mandate drawn up in accords brokered by Portugal, the US and the former Soviet Union.

(Map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own