Angola was teetering on the brink of war, even while moves were afoot to avert yet another flare-up of this protracted conflict. Human rights abuses were widespread. The government, dominated by the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the armed opposition Union for the Total Independence (UNITA) restricted freedom of movement, arbitrarily abducted or detained civilians, censored information, and conscripted children. Both sides violated cease-fire agreements and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and looting were a persistent feature of military operations.
The year started on a more upbeat note after UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi and President dos Santos spoke by telephone in December 1997 for the first time in many months, agreeing on January 9 to complete the implementation of the key outstanding elements of the Lusaka Protocol. The development of a government of national unity, the demobilization of UNITA, and the full restoration of state control over local government was due to be completed on February 28. However, UNITA had not fulfilled its obligations by this time and a new deadline was set for March 16, to be marked by the installation of UNITAs leadership in Luanda. When UNITA declared on March 6 that it had demilitarized all its forces, the government responded by legalizing UNITA as a political party and appointing three governors and seven vice-governors nominated by UNITA. Both sides also agreed on the list of six ambassadors nominated by UNITA. On March 31, a law granting special status to Savimbi as the leader of the largest opposition party was promulgated.
On April 1, Radio Vorgan, the UNITA radio station, ceased broadcasting. On the same day a UNITA delegation led by Vice-President General Sebastião Dembo arrived in Luanda to prepare for the reopening of UNITAs office there on June 1. However, the April 1 deadline for the return of local administrations was missed, with only 80 percent of the 335 localities brought under government control. Eight of the twelve strategic areas set to be handed back to the government were normalized by early June but the key outstanding areas of Andulo, Bailundo, Nharea, and Mongo in the center of the country remained the focus of negotiations. In May, the U.N. submitted a new timetable, calling for the former rebels to hand back the areas by May 31. They did not comply, and UNITA requested more time. On May 31, the U.N. announced that UNITA had proposed that it should hand over the four remaining strongholds by June 25.
UNITA again sought a delay in handing over of the four strategic locations, and was given an extra ten days by the U.N. However, on July 1, when UNITA again requested at least two further weeks to withdraw, the U.N. imposed a new package of sanctions on UNITA to try to force compliance.
In anticipation of these sanctions UNITA pulled out of the U.N.-chaired Joint Commission for two months in protest; upon its return in August UNITA said it would permit the extension of state administration to the four strongholds by October 15. The government counter-proposed an August 31 deadline; on that date it suspended UNITA from the Government of Unity and National Reconciliation (GURN) on the grounds of non-compliance by UNITA with its commitments under the Lusaka Protocol.
In a related action, Jorge Valentim, and other UNITA members who had served in the GURN announced a split with Savimbi, launching a party called the Renovation Committee of UNITA. The government stated that it would only negotiate with this new UNITA and urged others to do the same. Although the Southern African Development Community (SADC) branded Jonas Savimbi a war criminal and threw its support behind the new UNITA, the group did not attract strong support inside Angola or outside SADC. Many of UNITAs seventy members of parliament disassociated themselves from the group (another thirteen were not in Luanda and two were ill) and many other senior UNITA officials refused to support the breakaway group, despite threats, bribes by the government pressing them to do so. On September 2 police surrounded and took control of UNITAs headquarters in Luanda and only allowed supporters of the Valentim faction to enter the building. Senior police officers publicly said that anyone not with the Valentim group was a political criminal.
The governments sponsorship of a new UNITA was part of its wider strategy of gradually weakening the rebels through military action and cooption. Luanda also embarked on a strategy to build an international cordon sanitaire around UNITA to cut off its supplies. Luanda intervened successfully militarily in Congo-Brazzaville and in the ex-Zaire in 1997 to ensure UNITA could not maintain the significant foothold it had in these countries in the past. Angolan troops remained in Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1998 and Zambia was also successfully threatened by Luanda with invasion in March unless it stopped UNITA sanction-busting operations on its soil. In August Luanda also reengaged in DRC with troops, tanks, and air support in support of President Kabila. Namibia was always supportive of the government.
Human rights violations in Angola increased throughout the year and were at a higher level than 1997. Security in many areas of the country remained precarious, with continuing tensions mostly the result of armed attacks, often targeting the Angola NationalPolice (ANP) and local government authorities in the countryside. There were also numerous attacks on government posts and vehicles, as well as abductions of personnel. Often the perpetrators were groups of well-armed, unidentified men. The U.N. Observer Mission to Angola (MONUA) was also attacked: on March 27, UNITA attacked a MONUA team at Chongoroi, killing one Angolan and injuring three others. Attacks like this appeared intended by UNITA to show that the U.N. presence was still needed beyond April 30, when its mandate was to expire. There was a temporary decline in attacks on MONUA after the mandate was extended to June 30.
UNITA continued to harass government forces, as if to remind Luanda that it could make the country ungovernable. On March 30 the government warned the U.N. in an open letter that UNITA was preparing for war. The U.N. rejected the letter, calling it inflammatory, but marked the deterioration by referring to the military situation rather than the security situation. Armed attacks increased in 1998, forcing thousands of people from the countryside to migrate to urban areas. Incidents such as the pillage of Ngove on April 23 and the killing of eleven policemen in Bembe on April 26 did not increase confidence. In early May, armed bandits attacked villages in the diamond-producing areas around Chica River, Lunda Sul, leaving behind them a trail of deaths.
Although UNITA continued to deny its involvement in what often seemed to be well-coordinated attacks, it was clear that many of the offensives were conducted by armed elements directly or indirectly under UNITA control. According to Amnesty International, at least forty people were killed in May, including more than twenty police officers, with dozens of others injured or missing.
A number of UNITA officials and sympathizers were targeted in the many acts of violence since April. UNITA claimed that government forces killed seven of its members near Negage on May 6 or 7. Gross human rights abuses, including the killing of local UNITA functionaries in Cuando Cubango, Cuanza Norte, and Lunda Norte provinces, and harassment of UNITA members, were also reported by MONUA. UNITA representatives abandoned their offices in some areas because of real or perceived persecution by the police. UNITA leader Savimbi claimed on August 3 that UNITA had turned over some 272 localities to the government, but said the police and Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) had forcibly expelled all UNITA cadres and supporters from 260 of these. In Luanda Human Rights Watch found credible evidence of UNITA supporters being harassed by government forces. There were also lynchings of alleged UNITA supporters; a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed one such incident outside Caxito in August and was held at gun-point by police and military personnel and threatened with death.
The death of U.N. Special Representative Blondin Beye in an air crash in Cote dIvoire on June 27 undermined mediation U.N. efforts. Beye, who was replaced by Issa Diallo of Guinea, had been on trip to the West African states Cote dIvoire, Togo, and Burkina Faso to ask their governments to stop supporting UNITA. Following Beyes death, insecurity increased and UNITA reasserted itself in several areas, including Luau, Lumbala Nguimbo, and Cazombo in Moxico province.
In early July government forces backed by helicopter gunships clashed with UNITA rebels in the provinces of Kwanza Norte and Lunda Norte, in the diamond-producing areas. Fighting was also reported in Cuando Cubango. According to MONUA in late July, ten of the countrys eighteen provinces were unsafe.
The levels of violence by both sides were very high in August, with the national police targeting demobilized soldiers and UNITA officials and burning villages in areas sympathetic to UNITA. There were also abuses during forced recruitment for the Angolan military often of children. Between June and August, the government conscripted males aged fifteen to thirty-four for combat. Extra soldiers were sent to remote areas and unemployed teenagers rounded up and sent for military training. UNITA continued to attack villages and police posts, ambush vehicles, and lay new mines.
The increase in military operations resulted in a further rise in reported human rights violations, particularly in Lunda Norte, Malange, and Cabinda provinces. The mass killing of at least 105 civilians by an unidentified group on July 21 and the wounding of numerous others in the mining settlement of Bula in Lunda Norte constituted the most dramatic abuse. Attacks on Cambo-Sungingi and Cunda-Dia-Baze in Malange in August by heavily armed individuals resulted in numerous deaths; at least nine summary executions indicated a growing pattern. In September fighting continued in Malange, Uige, Huambo, and Lunda Norte provinces. A World Food Program (WFP) convoy was attacked in Uige on September 16 by unidentified gunmen: nine U.N. trucks were torched, one U.N. employee was killed, and a number of people were injured. The WFP suspended its land convoys for three weeks after the incident.
The renewed hostilities resulted in fresh flows of refugees into Namibia and Zambia. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 7,000 civilians crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo in mid-July to escape fighting. Some 300,000 refugees in neighboring countries were not repatriated because of the delays in implementing the peace accords, along with general insecurity.
By September an estimated total of 1.3 million displaced people inside Angola were also unable or unwilling to return to their homes, particularly in rural areas, because of insecurity. From the beginning of 1998, more than 142,000 newly displaced persons were registered by the U.N. and the national displacement of the civilian population spread to areas untouched for several years, such as Kwanza Sul, Namibe, and Cunene provinces. Freedom of movement remained limited and illegal checkpoints and banditry continued to restrict the circulation of people and goods in various parts of the country.
One of the few areas of improvement was in the exercise of freedom of expression in the independent media in Luanda, as government officials encouraged editorial self-censorship and used the incentive of payment for the publication for pro-government stories as an alternative to open censorship and repression of journalists. In the provinces the situation was different: for example, the governors office in Malange province banned all freelance activity by Voice of America stringer Isaias Soares. Soares had already been suspended from his job as a reporter on the local radio station for criticizing the governors office for failing to help local communities recover from the war before the unexplained second ban. In March the government also terminated live coverage of National Assembly debates, saying it was too expensive, but also halting the publicity given to parliamentary challenges from theopposition.
Angola has one of the highest numbers of landmines of any country in the world, and there were reports of new mines being planted by UNITA in areas it controlled. The U.N. confirmed new landmine incidents in Bie, Malange, Lunda Norte, and Lunda Sul. The government, although it signed the Ottawa landmine ban treaty in December 1997, maintained its stockpiles and began to lay new defensive minefields in Luena, Saurimo, Malange, Quibaxe, Uige, Kuito and in Cabinda.
Both sides continued to purchase arms in 1998. The government received new weapons from Bulgaria, Russia, and possibly Brazil. Although the number of sanction-busting flights into UNITA zones declined, they still continued. The Angolan air force compelled a South African DC-4 cargo plane to land in Menongue in January. The plane had been carrying mining equipment from South Africa and had filed a false flight plan to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Up to March a number of flights refueled in Ndola, Zambia, prior to heading for UNITA areas. The South African authorities also impounded four planes owned by Russians and used for sanction-busting in this period. Togo, Cote dIvoire, and Burkina Faso also acted as staging posts. A number of these flights originated in Bulgaria.
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