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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Angola: Peace Monitor, V, 8

Angola: Peace Monitor, V, 8
Date Distributed (ymd): 990502
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Southern Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This issue of the Angola Peace Monitor reports an escalating humanitarian crisis, including starvation in cities besieged by UNITA forces, as a military stalemate persists in the renewed Angolan conflict.

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Angola Peace Monitor
Published by ACTSA on behalf of the Angola Emergency Campaign

Issue no. 8, Vol. V
29th April 1999

Hunger stalks besieged cities

There is increasing concern at the growing hunger in the UNITA-besieged cities of Cuito, Huambo and Malanje. Attacks on these cities have continued, and there has been an increase in assaults on vehicles bringing food to them. Access to the cities varies day by day as government troops fight to keep UNITA rebels out of shelling range. According to Archbishop Francisco Vitti of Huambo, people are already dying of starvation. There are growing fears of a replaying of the sieges by UNITA of the same cities in 1993, during which over 40,000 people died.

The United Nations has estimated that 780,000 people have fled their homes since UNITA began retaking territory in earnest in April 1998. In total 1.5 million people are now refugees in their own country (Internally Displaced People) with thousands more having fled to neighbouring countries.

Aid workers have been targeted by UNITA. On 14 April five aid officials travelling in a clearly marked Save the Children Fund (US) vehicle on the Gebela - Sumbe road in Cuanza Sul province were murdered by a UNITA gang. Two of the victims worked for SCF(US), and the others worked for Oikos, the Associacao Crista de Mocidade and the Associacao Congregacional Crista de Angola.

Three were shot dead in the vehicle, whilst the other two were interrogated before being mutilated. A police unit sent to the scene was also ambushed, leading to their deaths.

The ambush took place as the aid workers were on their way to Sumbe to attend a meeting called by the World Food Programme and the Italian government. The attack has been condemned by the United Nations.


There was heavy shelling of Cuito for the first two weeks of April. It is reported that ten people were being killed daily. The airport was closed on 29 March, although it re-opened on 16 April with the Angolan army, FAA, Chief of Staff General Joao de Matos being on the first flight.

Shelling of the city continued until 14 April. However there are news agency reports that UNITA have now been pushed back by FAA. These reports state that FAA took control of the districts of Cunhinga and Chipeta 30 Kilometres to the north of the city.

According to the World Food Programme, food stocks are critically low, although a nutritional study by MSF Belgium has found the current situation to be "not grave" yet. However, food aid is still restricted to most vulnerable. On 2 April a truck carrying food was attacked at Cachingues, 60 km south of city, and ten people were reported killed.


Flights have been arriving at Huambo airport carrying food and fuel. However, there are serious food shortages. Some roads into the city have been open, with a convoy reaching Benguela safely. It is reported that vehicles are travelling as far north of the city as Alto Hama.

UNITA has infiltrated the city on several nights, with fighting reported to be the heaviest since the siege began.


Malanje has continued to suffer from heavy shelling which began on 4 January. At one stage UNITA is reported to have come within 5 kilometres of the city before being pushed back by FAA.

Civilians have been attacked on the road between Luanda and Malanje, a route which thousands have used to escape the siege. On 22 April twenty bodies were discovered in the remains of two burnt-out cars on the Luanda-Malanje road, near the town of Lucala.

A wooden bridge on this road, recently destroyed by UNITA, has been repaired and traffic can now use the road - but only at great risk. Food from the WFP has being getting through to the town, with 1,700 tonnes arriving in March. World Food Programme plea for funds

The World Food Programme has warned that the increased amount of food aid needed and a further aircraft to deliver it has left the UN organisation requiring $8 million immediately.

WFP makes around seven deliveries a day by its air fleet, with each Boeing 727 taking 17 metric tons of aid.

International responses

Among recent promises of aid from the international community:

  • Italy has offered $12.5 million for humanitarian de-mining, food and humanitarian aid, plus $2.5 million to the Consolidated Appeal.
  • China has announced that it will give $600,000 of aid plus $3.5 million in unspecified assistance.
  • France will be giving food aid and assistance to MSF and to the World Health Organisation for cholera survey and to FAO for projects in seed multiplication for IDPs.

Polio epidemic

More than 600 cases of polio, with 33 deaths have been reported in Angola. This is being linked to the poor conditions which exist in slums, particularly around Luanda. Most cases have been found among the refugee population, who lack access to clean drinking water and decent hygiene conditions.

In an attempt to halt the spread of the poliomyelitis viral disease, 600,000 children under the age of five have been vaccinated.

Military stalemate in run-up to dry season

The conflict in Angola has led to the deaths of 10,000 people, according to the Angolan journal Folha-8. Despite this loss of life, there has been no major gain in territory over the last month. The Angolan army has concentrated on digging in to defensive positions, whilst UNITA has continued to use a twin-track approach of tying down FAA forces in the three besieged cities whilst carrying out hit and run attacks throughout the rest of the country.

However, FAA troops are undergoing training, and conscription of all those born in 1978 is being enforced. Sources in Angola state that preparations are underway for an eventual large scale assault on UNITA. It is understood that unusually heavy rains have been reducing the government's air capacity. However, the dry season is due to start in May, and this may signal the next phase of the war.

In April UNITA is reported to have stepped up attacks near Luanda, including an attack on an electricity powerline near Catate. Two attacks were also reported near Caxito.

The governor of Cuanza Sul province, General Higino Carneiro, has warned that UNITA troops are flooding into the province, inflicting big losses on government forces.

The rebels have also reportedly been laying mines on roads in Uige province, and the bridge over the Kuilo River near Sanza Pombo has been destroyed.

UNITA took control of the border town of Maquela do Zombo on 26 March, reportedly with the help of rebels from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is alleged that this is being used as a crossing point for UNITA soldiers in the DRC, and that its airport is used to ferry-in supplies for the rebels. UNITA claimed that on 14 April it took control of the strategically important Alto Catumbela, Benguela province, but this has been denied by the government. The rebels also claim that heavy fighting has been taking place over Chingwar in Bie province.

The government claims that it has beaten back an attack by UNITA on Cunhinga on 25 April, in which the rebels left behind five armoured cars.

In Uige province, unconfirmed reports state that FAA has retaken Nsosso (formerly 31 Janeiro) and St Ambuila and repulsed a UNITA attack on Songo. A UNITA attack on Leua in Moxico province was also unsuccessful.

New arms and troops

Both the Angolan government and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA are rearming and recruiting new soldiers in preparation for major battles that lie ahead.

There have been several reports claiming that UNITA has bought six MiG-23 fighter jets (the London-based journal Southscan suggests that the aircraft could be Sukhoi-5's), and six Hind Mi-25 assault helicopters. If true, it would represent a spectacular increase in UNITA's capacity. However, a weapons expert quoted by the South African-based Mail & Guardian, said that six MiG's were too few to fundamentally alter the balance of power, and that 18 would be needed.

According to reports the aircraft are being operated by mercenaries from either South Africa or Ukraine. Reports vary on where the MiG's are kept, with some saying that they are in Jamba in the south of Angola, with others claiming that they are kept in Togo in West Africa.

However, many commentators doubt the veracity of these reports, pointing to the difficulties in maintaining and fuelling the aircraft, along with problems of airstrips and hiding the aircraft. The general consensus is that whilst it is possible, it is unlikely that UNITA has assault helicopters and improbable that they have fighter aircraft. One source has told the Angola Peace Monitor that UNITA did attempt to buy MiG's over a year ago, but were unable to complete the deal due to logistical problems.

Despite the belief among commentators that the story is likely to emanate from UNITA itself for propaganda purposes, the upsurge in fighting in December 1998 showed that UNITA is much better armed than expected.

To put the claims of a UNITA air force in perspective, the International Institute for Strategic Studies publication "The Military Balance 1998/99" put the Angolan air force capacity at 45 combat aircraft and 28 armed helicopters, comprising of inter alia 18 MiG-23's, 9 SU-22's, 4 SU-25's, 4 MiG-21's, and 15 Mi-25/35.

The Angolan government has been receiving a steady supply of new arms, including T-72 tanks. According to the Portuguese daily newspaper Diario de Noticias, the government is also purchasing long range artillery from Belarus and SU-24 fighter bombers from Russia.

Foreign troops

It has been reported that UNITA has around 150 Ukrainian and 100 South African mercenaries, along with up to 600 Moroccan troops. In addition, the Mail & Guardian reported on 9 April that indications have surfaced of Ugandan troops being seconded in support of UNITA.

South Africa has recently expelled 43 foreign pilots accused of ferrying supplies to UNITA along with 23 aircraft. South African police have blamed this group for 200 cases of violation of the SA civil aviation rules.

There have also been reports that, following a meeting on 2 April of heads of state from Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there has been an agreement for joint operations against UNITA, probably focussing on the recapture of Maquela do Zombo on the border with the DRC. On 28 April it was reported that UNITA troops had been driven back into Uige province by FAA in an operation in the DRC.

The Namibian Defence Force have denied that they are to take part in joint operations in Angola.

Angolan diplomatic advances

The Angolan government has been busy developing its international contacts in an attempt to persuade the international community that the achievements of the Lusaka Protocol have not all been undone by the resumption of war. Under the auspices of the Lusaka Protocol senior UNITA generals were incorporated into the command structure of the unified army, FAA. Several thousand UNITA troops were also inducted into the army.

Furthermore, UNITA deputies were allowed to take up their places in the country's parliament, the National Assembly, and four UNITA members were brought into the cabinet of the Government of Unity and National Reconciliation.

The officially-recognised UNITA-Renovada, is free to operate in Luanda, although UNITA members loyal to Jonas Savimbi have been harassed.

Several senior diplomatic missions have visited Luanda in April including:

  • the vice-president elect of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, visited Angola on 6 and 7 April
  • on 7 April the Heads of State of Zimbabwe, Namibia and DRC came for a meeting with President dos Santos
  • on 7 April President dos Santos met with Gedeon Magete, the diplomatic adviser of Burundian President Pierre Buyoya
  • on 2 April the Moroccan Minister of Information, Mohammed Messari, announced that support for Jonas Savimbi was "something in the past"
  • on 21 April the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes, Aldo Ajello, met with government ministers.

The leader of the rump of the UN peacekeeping mission to Angola, MONUA, General Kofi Obeng, visited Foreign Minister Joao Miranda. The mission is to be wound up by 70 Bolivians and other administrative staff. Discussions are still underway on what form the United Nations assistance to Angola will take (see APM no7, vol V).

The chair of the UN Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Robert Fowler of Canada, is due to visit Angola in May. However, the proposed task forces to look into the key areas of arms, diamonds, petroleum and financial sanctions busting have not yet been set up, probably due to bureaucratic delays.

In another development, following a meeting in Botswana the United States and SADC members have agreed to hand to the UN Sanctions Committee intelligence in their possession on illegal arms supplies to UNITA.

Angolan arrested over Zambian bombings

Silva Cassamano Quiberto was arrested by Zambian police on 31 March and charged with murder in connection with the 13 bombs which went off in Lusaka on 28 April. Two other people have been arrested.

A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the Angolan, Zambian and Swazi governments after the Swazi king offered to mediate to reduce tensions between the two countries following allegations of Zambian support for UNITA (see APM no7, vol.V).

It was reported that the Angolan air force was due to strike at targets in Zambia, including an oil depot suspected of being used by UNITA. The reports state that the operation was aborted after diplomatic pressure from the United States and France.

Independent journals under fire

Concern is being raised over legal action being initated by the Angolan government over articles appearing in three independent Angolan journals, Expresso, Agora and Folha-8. An article on the activities of President dos Santos' daughter is the source of one complaint, whilst the editor of Folha-8 is being prosecuted over an article which allegedly encouraged people to avoid military conscription. The editor has denied the charges, pointing out that his son is conscripted.

IMF programme may be relaunched

Following the appointment by the Angolan government of a new financial team at the end of January, moves are underway to revive the International Monetary Fund's "staff-monitored programme". The programme had previously fallen through partly due to a lack of transparency in oil revenues.

The new Finance Minister, Joaquim Durate da Costa David, along with the new governor of the National Bank, Aguinaldo Jaime, have good reputations, although the problems of regularising the country's finances are still magnified by the huge fall in oil prices (despite a recent partial recovery).

The Angola Peace Monitor is produced every month by ACTSA - Action for Southern Africa, the successor organisation to the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. It is produced as our contribution towards the work of the Angola Emergency Campaign, which seeks to highlight the need for international action in support of peace and democracy in Angola.

ACTSA, 28 Penton Street, London N1 9SA, e-mail,
fax +44 171 837 3001, telephone +44 171 833 3133.

Back issues of the Angola Peace Monitor are available on the World Wide Web at:

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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