Angolans Begin to Disarm Under Successful Cease-Fire
A PEACE accord ending 16 years of civil war has brought unexpected progress toward reconciliation and the political integration of this war-ravaged land, government and rebel officials say.The six-week-old cease-fire passed a milestone this weekend when top Angolan officials joined international monitors on a visit to this remote rebel headquarters in the southeastern corner of the country. The C-130 Hercules transport plane, newly painted in Angola's red-and-black national colors, was engulfed in a cloud of dust as it landed at rebel headquarters over the weekend. The 80-member delegation aboard was met by colorful dancers and the sound of African drums. Camouflaged wooden towers topped with anti-aircraft guns and missile launchers broke the tree line that hides the almost invisible "city" of Jamba. As the dust settled, senior officials of Angola's government, United Nations personnel, and United States, Soviet, and Portuguese members of an international monitoring commission mingled with rebel leaders. It is a waymark in the peace accord between President Eduardo Dos Santos' ruling Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and Jonas Savimbi's Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels. "This is a very positive step toward the rapid and irreversible implementation of the peace accords," said UNITA Vice President Jeremias Chitunda. The Portuguese-brokered accord was signed in Lisbon May 31 after 12 months of negotiations. "I never had any doubt that this day would come," said Portuguese mediator Antonio Monteiro. "And I have no doubt that the agreement will hold." The first UNITA officials arrived in Angola's capital, Luanda, in mid-June. And on June 23 the first UNITA rally in Luanda drew about 10,000 people. Dr. Savimbi told the Monitor he would go to Luanda as soon as the government gave him the green light. "I have asked President Eduardo Dos Santos for a house. ...and the day they tell me it is ready I will go to stay." Officials on both sides expressed confidence that the accord would hold until the first multiparty elections take place in September of next year. "The years of war have left deep wounds in the body of the nation," said Lopo Do Nasciemento, who is political adviser to Mr. Dos Santos and chief negotiator in the peace talks. "Now is the time to heal the wounds, not only of the body, but also of the soul and heart," Dr. Do Nasciemento told about 10,000 UNITA supporters. The war, which set Soviet-backed Cuban and Angolan troops against US and South African-backed UNITA rebels, has laid waste this oil-rich country and claimed about 300,000 lives. Do Nasciemento told the Monitor that the best outcome of the elections would be a coalition government in which UNITA and the MPLA shared power. "I think it is possible ... I think it is desirable. I think a government of national unity would be appropriate to cure the wounds of the war." UNITA changed its constitution at a special conference in March to convert it to a political party. UNITA claims to control much of the rural areas and the sparsely populated southeast-third of the country. The MPLA, which is entrenched in the towns and cities, has dropped the label of a Marxist-Leninist workers' party and has changed the law to allow for multiparty democracy and civil liberties. A third force of democratic parties is emerging and could play a key role in the first multiparty elections. Savimbi said he was optimistic UNITA would win the ballot but, if it lost, he would not return to armed resistance. "If I lose the election, this is my country and I am an ordinary citizen," he said. "No one will push me to go back to the bush any more." The meeting began a new phase in the cease-fire. Soldiers of the two armies will gather at 50 locations nationwide to hand in their weapons. This is a prelude to forming a new national army of about 40,000 soldiers - half from UNITA and half from the MPLA. Defense analysts estimate the Angolan Army at around 125,000 soldiers and the rebels at between 35,000 and 50,000. Gen. Ferreira Gomes, the head of the UN Verification and Monitoring group, said logistics posed the major problem. "Roads are in very bad condition, airfields need rehabilitation, and there is no gasoline in the east of the country," he said. Angola has the world's highest number of amputees due to land mine injuries. "Over the years there have been so many mines laid in different wars that it is impossible to determine where they all are," Gen. Gomes said. Estimates of the number of land mines range from 70,000 to several hundred thousand. US military aid to UNITA and Soviet aid to the MPLA stopped with the signing of the cease-fire pact. But US financial aid to UNITA, believed to total about $20 million initially, will go toward the upkeep of troops.