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UNITA Appeals for Urgent Food Aid in Angola - 2002-07-10

Now that peace has returned to Angola, UNITA says the international community needs to act quickly to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the demobilization camps. Aid agencies say there have been deaths related to shortages of food and medicine.

In an interview with VOA, UNITA's interim president, Lukamba Gato, expressed fear that the situation in the 33 camps may cause unrest. He urged the former rebels to be patient. He ruled out a resumption of fighting and commended the Angolan government for acting to help the ex-rebel soldiers survive the harsh environment of the camps.

The UNITA official made his comments in Paris – shortly after visiting the United States and Portugal on a mission to mobilize international support for Angola’s peace process.

The UNITA rebel movement under the late Jonas Savimbi began fighting against the government of Angola in 1975, when the country gained independence from Portugal. In 1993, a peace accord brokered by the Organization of African Unity was signed in Lusaka, Zambia. But in 1994, UNITA resumed guerrilla warfare. The United Nations Security Council imposed economic sanctions against the rebels barring them from exporting conflict diamonds and forbidding senior leaders to travel to any UN member country.

Last February, Mr Savimbi was ambushed and killed by government forces. In April, Lukamba Gato -- who is also UNITA’s secretary general -- signed a peace accord with the government of President Jose Edwardo dos Santos. In response, the UN Security Council partially lifted sanctions to allow UNITA leaders to travel freely and take part in negotiations aimed at consolidating peace.

The agreement allows over 80 thousand ex-combatants to be integrated into the country’s armed forces – while the rest are to return to civilian life. Those returning need technical and financial assistance to help them make the transition to productive activities such as farming, mining and fishing. The Angolan government and UNITA officials have been appealing to the international community for aid to help them. Mr. Lukamba Gato and deputy Angolan Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti both recently visited the United States on a similar mission. In Paris, the UNITA leader made two major appeals. He said "First, there is a need for urgent humanitarian aid in the wake of a serious crisis either in the rehabilitation camps of the soldiers or in other parts of the country as a result of the intensified war and the politics of the past 12 years during the war. Two, on the political and diplomatic plan, we have demanded from the authorities and from our hosts that they encourage the dialogue between the two parties and others so that together we should find the best way, a moderate voice to enable us to arrive at durable peace. That’s what we think is the most important thing after the signing of the peace accord, after the disarming of UNITA troops, we must work together and decide the type of society which we want to build."

The UN Security Council’s decision to partially lift sanctions against UNITA is a precaution because it does not fully trust the rebel movement, which abandoned the Lusaka peace accord in 1994 to go back to war. But Mr Lukamba Gato assures the international community that this time around, the fighting will not resume. He says "The war is finished but we need peace. The war is over, the era of military confrontation is over, we want to enter effectively a phase, an era of confrontation of ideas, by way of using the power of argument and never again use the argument of power. "

The UNITA interim president says the donor community has pledged to offer emergency assistance in the coming few days but did not specify what kind of aid, or the amount. The Angolan civil war has claimed over half a million lives and has displaced over four million people.