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US Aids Angolan UNITA Rebel Demobilization - 2002-07-26


The Pentagon has dispatched a small team of military experts to Angola to assist in the collection of weapons turned in by demobilized soldiers of the UNITA rebel movement.

The Defense Department has not deployed military observers to oversee the demobilization process, posting them at assembly points where UNITA rebels have surrendered under a ceasefire agreement reached earlier this year.

However a top Pentagon official on African affairs reveals a small number of military experts have been sent to Angola. The official, Theresa Whelan, said the personnel are a technical team whose mission is to advise Angolan authorities on the processing of weapons being turned in as part of the demobilization effort.

She gives no additional details on the exact nature of their activities. But she said the team spent about two weeks in Angola in June and is expected to return next month for a stay of similar length.

In a VOA interview, Ms. Whelan said the main function of keeping an eye on the overall demobilization process has fallen not to observers specially sent to Angola but to members of the Defense Attache's office at the U.S. Embassy in Luanda.

"Right now, given how quickly demobilization progressed and the fact that they were going to bring to a close July 20, my understanding is they have extended it a week because there were few loose ends that needed to be tied up, but given that has proceeded so quickly it's unlikely right now and the recommendation that we're getting from our embassy is that it doesn't look like observers in the context that they were originally discussed are going to be needed," Ms. Whelan said.

Ms. Whelan said if circumstances change, the United States would be willing to revisit the observer question.

So far over 85,000 UNITA soldiers along with nearly 300,000 family members have reported to quartering areas around the country. Angolan military officials said the rebels have handed over thousands of weapons, including artillery pieces as well as small arms.

The unexpectedly large numbers have stretched the ability of the government and aid officials to assist the rebels and their families.

Demobilization got under way following the signing earlier this year of a ceasefire accord. The accord provided for the United Nations and a so-called troika of peace observers consisting of the United States, Russia and former colonial power Portugal to take on an observation role and to provide technical experts.

The end of Angola's long and bloody civil war follows the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in a shoot-out with government troops.

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