UN toils for peace as Angolan rebels create a capital

SPENT mortar shells and bullet casings litter the grounds of the old United Nations military camp in Huambo where the remaining piece of UN military hardware, a Russian-built Mi-8 helicopter, has become a public lavatory.

Where smart prefab houses once stood in neat rows with a canteen and satellite phone, today there are a few trenches where the last group of unarmed UN soldiers huddled in early January last year waiting to be evacuated as Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) launched the final attack in its 55-day siege of the city.

It was only 17 months ago, as the country was about to go to the polls, that the camp was buzzing with activity as idealistic young soldiers and UN personnel from around the world rushed to and fro and helicopters lifted off and landed, to ensure that one of Africa's worst disasters, Angola's civil war, would become an international success story.

It was not to be. On the eve of the vote, UN military personnel under Lieutenant- Colonel Roger Mortlock, a New Zealander, knew trouble was brewing. The demobilisation had failed, and the warring sides had created alternative forces - the government's anti-riot police, and Unita's Special Security Corps - which fell outside UN supervision. 'A guaranteed recipe for conflict,' Colonel Mortlock said then. The UN mandate, to observe the disarmament and election process, was too weak to deal with the catastrophe that followed the 29-30 September 1992 elections when Mr Savimbi rejected his defeat and returned to war.

Two months after the vote, the government and civilian vigilantes had smashed Unita's troops and supporters in the capital, Luanda, and in Malange, and were preparing to finish them off in the other cities of Lubango, Benguela, and Lobito. Colonel Mortlock was locked in mediation efforts to prevent a final showdown in Huambo between Unita and President Eduardos dos Santos's Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government.

On 21 November 1992, he stood on the steps of the pink UN command building with the local MPLA commander, Colonel Walter Jorge, and Unita's General Augusto Domingos Wiyo, attempting to keep the peace. All three knew events were overtaking them. General Wiyo's words that day were as depressing as they were prophetic: 'A small number of guerrillas with just 100 rounds of ammunition can set off events that will devastate the whole country,' he said. 'I lost my whole youth to 16 years of war, and the last thing I want to see is for it to start again.'

That showdown came two months later. General Wiyo has now lost nearly 18 years to war. Colonel Jorge, too, is still in the government army. Colonel Mortlock returned to New Zealand a year ago, an emotionally drained man.

The UN is again involved in bringing peace to Angola, this time by brokering negotiations in Lusaka, Zambia, with the countries that mediated the May 1991 peace accords - the United States, Portugal and Russia - sitting in as observers.

This time, if an agreement can be reached, the UN is promising to send in 5,000 to 8,000 peace-keeping troops. After Somalia and Bosnia, however, it is difficult to see which countries would be prepared to provide the manpower.

The crunch will come when Unita is supposed to begin withdrawing from the 65 per cent of the country it has occupied since the civil war resumed. Discussions with Unita military officials here leave a lingering suspicion that they see such a UN force as the perfect buffer for a de facto partition of the country, or at least to provide a respite before continuing their march towards the sea and Luanda. 'We have not been able to reach the Atlantic coast yet, but one day we will,' said Commander Antonio Urbano, whose nom de guerre 'Chasanya' means hot in the Umbundu language.

There is no sign that Unita would be willing to withdraw from Huambo, which has become the rebels' effective capital. Visitors to the airport must fill in an immigration form before proceeding into town. A semblance of a government, complete with ministries of education, health, humanitarian affairs and housing, is in place. In the past month, a Unita police force has appeared on the streets of Huambo.

'The problem is that you have two forces fighting for power, and each one believes that if it lays down its arms, the other will subjugate it,' said Tony Chivukuvuku, a Unita protocol official in Huambo. 'The logic is to keep on fighting.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map