Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

ANGOLA: More Pressure On Savimbi Needed, Say Activists

LONDON, Jul 23 1996 (IPS) - Angolan rebels are grossly violating the Lusaka peace accords, say campaigners who are calling on Western governments to apply concerted pressure on Jonas Savimbi and his rebel army to abide by the protocols of the 18-month-old truce.

They charge that the main obstacle to lasting peace is the refusal of Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) to honour its pledges under last year’s accord and hand over weapons and encamp its fighters at U.N.-designated sites.

“More pressure on UNITA by the West is the only thing that can force it to honour the principles of the Lusaka accords,” says Ben Jackson, director of London-based Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA).

“They have not handed in weapons and are delaying the quartering of their troops. They are committing these and other gross violations of clauses in the accords with impunity. Peace can only be achieved in Angola when UNITA begins to comply with the Lusaka agreement.”

According to U.N. sources in London, at least half of the estimated 40,000 UNITA ‘fighters’ who have so far been registered at the 11 U.N. quartering sites around the country are not front- line guerrillas.

The U.N. has also confirmed claims by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government that only about a third of them arrived with weapons of any sort, and these were mainly small arms.

“UNITA has not even begun a serious effort towards disarming and demobilising, 18 months after the Lusaka accords,” the U.N. source said. “And there is no sign of any change in their attitudes.”

These perceived “delaying tactics” by the rebel movement have led to doubts as to whether on-going moves to select and incorporate 26,000 UNITA fighters into the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) – begun in June – will be completed by the end of July, the deadline set by FAA commander General Joao de Matos.

The unified national army had been billed to replace the U.N. military contingent — the upkeep of which is costing over one million dollars a day. To date only about 20 UNITA officers have been inducted into the FAA.

And with the U.N. Security Council itself questioning the commitment of UNITA to the Lusaka accords — many observers maintain it would be irresponsible for the U.N. force to pull out.

Savimbi and his top lieutenants have been frequently accused of scuppering successive peace initiatives in the country’s two- decade-long civil war, notably in October 1992 when, following an 18-month ceasefire, the rebels relaunched the war after losing elections which international monitors ruled free and fair.

For the duration of that ceasefire, as now, Savimbi had dragged his feet over the disarmament and encampment of UNITA fighters.

Some observers believe Savimbi plans to resume hostilities again — if not immediately then sometime in the future — should the peace process unfold in a manner he finds unfavourable.

His steadfast refusal to occupy the vice-presidency in the government is seen as another indication that he is keeping his options open. Ironically he had been very insistent on it during the talks leading to Lusaka.

As Jackson said: “Even in March Savimbi, at the talks in Gabon with (Angola’s President Jose Eduardo) Dos Santos, said he was going to take up the post. Why this change of heart? It makes you wonder.” The MPLA had also offered UNITA several ministerial, ambassadorial and other top positions in government.

Savimbi’s game plan is bound to remain largely hidden until at least August, when UNITA holds its congress at its Bailundo headquarters. The rebel leader said this week that it is then that the decision on whether to join the government will be taken.

Many analysts, including U.N. sources, perceive this as another delaying tactic of Savimbi’s.

Meanwhile, international human rights activists say that rights abuses by both sides are being committed. There are numerous allegations of police brutality and arbitrary arrest in areas controlled by the government, while UNITA has been accused of killings, torture and “disappearances”.

These abuses not only violate universally-accepted principles of human rights, but also contravene the Lusaka accords which require that both sides observe international human rights standards, says Gillian Nezzins, an Amnesty International researcher who returned this week from Angola.

According to Nezzins, UNITA, which was left in control of over half the country after last year’s ceasefire and which operates its own judicial system in the areas it controls, has sanctioned the executions of many so-called ‘anti-social elements’.

“We found instances of torture and cruel and inhuman punishment,” she said. “One favourite punishment is that people are stretched out on logs of wood and beaten with sticks and hosepipes which usually ends in their bones breaking under the pressure.

“People have been sentenced to death and executed under UNITA’s ‘justice system’. This is also a violation of the Lusaka agreement, which states that UNITA must respect Angolan law, which has abolished the death penalty.”

Angola’s conflict started immediately after independence from colonial Portugal in 1975 when Savimbi’s UNITA, funded and armed by the then apartheid state of South Africa and backed by Portugal and the United States, pledged to remove the popular, left wing MPLA government.

All that changed in the ‘Nineties with the ending of the Cold War, the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa and the MPLA’s defeat of UNITA in the 1992 elections.

However, despite the current U.N. embargo on the rebel movement, arms and fuel supplies – for which it pays with proceeds from illegal diamond sales – continue to be flown in to UNITA via neighbouring Zaire.

Although there are signs that Washington, London and other Western governments are using diplomatic pressure try to persuade Savimbi to bring an end to his marathon, record-breaking war, campaigners say they are not doing enough.

Britain dismisses this claim. “While we cannot speak for other governments,” says a British Foreign Office spokesman, Clive Thompson, “the British government has kept up pressure on both sides for a more rapid implementation of the Lusaka accords at every opportunity.”

Jackson said: “UNITA will not budge until intense, coherent and concerted pressure is applied by the West. They should start by making the sanctions work and that means taking action on Zaire which is violating U.N. sanctions by allowing supplies to reach UNITA through its soil and airspace.

“When you look at how international sanctions are hitting Iraq and Libya, you can see that the West is not doing enough. When they want sanctions to work, they make them work. There is a lot more they can do force UNITA to respect the Lusaka accords.”

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