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Unita "Officially" Disbanded - 2002-08-02

Angola's former rebel movement, UNITA, says it has officially disbanded its military forces. Five-thousand UNITA soldiers are being integrated into the Angolan armed forces, and most of the rest are supposed to be returning to civilian life. But returning the former rebels to society will not be an easy task.

More than 80-thousand former UNITA rebels and about 300-thousand of their family members are living in so-called demobilization camps around Angola. The government and UNITA leaders are still negotiating what to do with them.

The government wants to resettle the UNITA fighters either in their home districts or in designated areas, scattered around the country. UNITA wants them to stay where they are -- which would in theory give the former rebel movement a concentrated base of support as it makes the transition to a political party.

Joao Gomes Porto is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. He says that after more than 25-years of war in Angola, it will not be easy to integrate former rebels and their families into mainstream Angolan society. People who once were bitter enemies may become neighbors.

He says, "So I think that's a very critical question, how and what kind of institutional framework is there to try to deal with these kinds of problems that will inevitably arise. As it is now, you have no framework to deal with the psychological, if you will, aspects of reconciliation."

The entire political landscape of Angola is in transition. The government is working on a new constitution and hopes to hold elections in late 2004 or early 2005.

But Mr. Porto says that so far, the process of political transformation in Angola is not as inclusive as it should be.

He says, "It is in actual fact a very limited exercise of co-option, which UNITA is playing along with because it doesn't have many other options. But is this an inclusive debate? Is this a debate that will involve sectors of society that have not participated in the past? I don't think so. And that's one of the crucial issues that civil society and opposition parties as well are trying to push in Angola."

Mr. Porto says most of the political dialogue is taking place between political elites in the capital, Luanda. He says important issues are not being discussed by the people they affect most. He urges Angolan political leaders to talk with religious and civic groups as they shape Angola's future.