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Demobilizing Angola's UNITA Guerrillas 'Essentially Complete'

The Bush administration's top African affairs expert said the process of demobilizing UNITA guerrillas in Angola is essentially complete, and the task now is to help the rebels and their families re-integrate into civilian life. Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner spoke to reporters Monday after returning from a trip to Angola, Gabon and Nigeria.

The Angolan parties did not make their July 20 deadline for the full demobilization of UNITA. But Mr. Kansteiner said U.S. reports say that virtually the entire rebel force, an estimated 82,000 fighters, are now in the more than 30 cantonment camps around the country.

He said the United States and other supporters of the peace process in the country are now shifting their attention to rehabilitating the rebels and their dependents, and helping care for an estimated four million Angolans displaced by four decades of conflict.

Mr. Mr. Kansteiner said, "It seems, it appears that everyone who was a UNITA member is now in the camps. And what's happening in these camps is of course disarming, first of all, and then there is some feeding, some health care, some shelter-providing, and then the next phase of course is re-integrating. And that will take farm implements and seeds, if they in fact want to go back and farm, and go home and start planting. There are now systems starting to get put into place where they, in fact are given those opportunities. We are working with international organizations to get farm tools and seeds available to these camps in the next 30 days."

Mr. Kansteiner, who met in Luanda with Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos and other officials last week, said an estimated quarter-million dependents of UNITA members are in the camps with the de-commissioned fighters. He said humanitarian conditions there, reported serious earlier this month, have improved in recent days with the influx of foreign help, including two jumbo jets loaded with U.S. food, clothes and other aid items.

He also said initial surveys suggest that there may be fewer landmines strewn across the Angolan countryside than initially feared. He said the United States, which has had a leading role in mine-clearing efforts there, has appealed to the former rebels and government military officials to scour their records for mine-field maps to assist in the clean-up.

The State Department's most recent report on the global landmine problem, issued late last year, lamented the lack of a national mine survey in Angola and said the number of live mines still in place could range from 200,000 to six million. It said mines kill or wound more than 800 people in Angola each year, with half the casualties occurring on roads and trails, severely hampering travel and commerce in the country.