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UN Refugee Agency Aid Efforts Hampered in Angola - 2002-02-13

The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, is appealing Wednesday for $372 million to help children survive emergency situations. The agency says, right now, of all the crises in the world, the conflict in Angola poses the greatest difficulty for UNICEF because years of fighting there have severely hampered the agency's ability to deliver aid.

UNICEF says one child dies every three minutes in Angola. The agency blames many of these deaths, at least indirectly, on Angola's decades-long civil war. It says fighting between UNITA rebels and government forces often makes it impossible for aid workers to reach children with medicine and other supplies that might have saved their lives.

The head of UNICEF's emergency services, Nils Kastberg, said there are several reasons UNICEF has not been able to do all that it would like to in Angola.

"Access, the ongoing conflict, the lack of investments, the lack of political will, resources -- all of those are factors that impinge on the fact that we have not be able to make a difference there," Mr. Kastberg said.

Mr. Kastberg said UNICEF has been able to provide immunizations against polio and measles to some of Angola's children, but the challenge is to reach them all.

Civil war has been raging in Angola almost since its independence from Portugal in 1975. A national unity government was formed in 1997 that included rebels from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola but fighting broke out again the following year. It is estimated that the civil war has taken the lives of more than one and a half million Angolans.

Mr. Kastberg has said UNICEF has slightly better access to children in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, which is also torn by fighting.

He says the agency has succeeded in freeing 400 Congolese children who served as government soldiers and is now negotiating the demobilization of 2,500 children who are now in the rebel armies.

But the UNICEF official expressed concern that as weapons become smaller and lighter, more and more children will be forced into military service.

"In many places all these irregular forces that are increasing their fighting force are doing so by recruiting children. We would like to create a world where there is an abhorrence of children being used, abused and misused in the context of war," he said.

Mr. Kastberg has said that, during the past decade, over two million children have been killed in wars and millions more traumatized by violence. But with the help of the international community, he says, UNICEF can work to prevent other children from becoming victims of violence.