(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Military meets to plan peace

[Angola] President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

"Incorporation into government forces or demobilisation" - these are the two choices UNITA generals will face when they meet their Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) counterparts on Wednesday, say observers and analysts.

"There is no (other) choice," a western diplomatic source told IRIN on Tuesday. "They (UNITA leaders) are negotiating a conditional surrender." Johann Smith, a South African risk analyst with links to UNITA, said: "One of the (government's) objectives was to disperse and destroy the (UNITA) military leadership. They did it."

FAA and UNITA generals issued a joint communiqué after meeting in Cassamba, Moxico, on Friday, confirming a cessation of hostilities and reiterating their support for a political settlement based on a partially-implemented 1994 peace blueprint - the Lusaka Peace Accord.

News reports quoted FAA's deputy chief of staff, General Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda, as saying after the meeting that agreements in Cassamba would be honoured because "there is no one here who is willing to continue the war".

General Abreu "Kamorteiro", UNITA's chief of general staff, was quoted as saying that there would be lasting peace and that past mistakes would not be repeated because "we are undertaking a process in extremely different circumstances".

A cloud of uncertainty seemed to engulf the impending meeting on Tuesday, however, as reports of an attack in central Huambo spread, and UNITA's representatives abroad claimed that the military leaders were actually being held captive and forced to negotiate under duress.

Lusa quoted UNITA spokesman in Portugal, Rui Oliveira, as saying that generals Kamorteiro, Calias Pedro and Alberto Samy, as well as brigadiers Fernando Epalanga and Paulo Bondo, were being detained and forced to stage the talks.

The Luanda-based diplomat told IRIN there was no evidence to substantiate the claims. "It's not possible. The government has been specific about who has been held captive. (There is) no evidence of that whatsoever," he said, adding that UNITA troops just no longer had the will or reason to fight.

Prominent cleric Reverend Daniel Ntoni-Nzinga agreed: "It's very difficult to tell. I have not had access to any information contrary to what we have been told. To my knowledge UNITA's chief of staff was not captured, so I have problems commenting on these reports. At the moment we are all still on standby until the negotiation process between the national army and UNITA rebels is concluded," he told IRIN.

However, Smith, described the situation as "murky" and agreed with UNITA Luanda-based spokesman Jaka Jamba that the truth would only be known once the UNITA leaders showed themselves again in Luena, the capital of Moxico province (where Savimbi was killed in combat on 22 February), for talks with FAA.

He said that if the generals were negotiating as free men their intention would be to unite their fractured rebel movement and to elect a new leadership. Their announcement at the weekend that a new 13-member commission had been created to take the process forward and that they wanted to convene a congress to elect a new leadership, was evidence of this, he added.

However, the diplomatic source said it was still too early to contemplate possible political scenarios. The government's focus, he said, was on completing its military objectives. "The government, understandably, wants to separate the two (military and political processes) at the moment. This is about a military surrender," he said.

According to the source, the majority of UNITA troops seemed to support a ceasefire. Reports that UNITA northern region commander General Apolo and his 1,500 men were still not aware of the cessation of hostilities, and that two people were killed when suspected UNITA soldiers captured a central Huambo town at the weekend, would not hinder developments.

"There may be a few hold-outs, but something is going to have to go terribly wrong for this process to come undone," he said. The diplomat attributed claims that the generals were negotiating as prisoners to understandable "concerns from UNITA politicians who are facing for the first time a situation where they don't have an army behind them".

Smith said UNITA's biggest priority now was to unite its three factions - those in exile abroad, those based in Luanda and the military leadership. He said Savimbi's successor General Antonio Dembo was one of the few leaders who had the power to unite all three factions, making his death, reportedly from illness and hunger, tragic.

"Immediately after it became known that he would take over from Savimbi, all the different factions issued statements giving their unconditional support to him. Ironically they signed his death warrant, because the last thing the Angolan government wants is a unified UNITA," Smith said.

Saying he feared a lack of control among UNITA forces at local level because of the divided leadership, Smith said he felt "UNITA will go for any ceasefire" because it wanted to consolidate its position, and that the generals meeting in Luena on Wednesday would probably play an important role in creating the conditions for such consolidation.

Smith, a former South African army liaison officer with UNITA, does not believe widespread reports, some from surrendered or captured UNITA fighters, that rebel troops are sick and hungry. "It's a fallacy. They're the best guerrilla fighting force in the world," he said, explaining that the war had simply become a way of life for many of them and that FAA and UNITA soldiers were known to share resources like fuel and food in the central Bie and Huambo provinces. "You have to think ... that there is a war economy," he added.

Meanwhile, according to various news reports, the Angolan government is planning to ask the UN to lift sanctions against certain UNITA leaders so that the peace process can move on after the cooperation of UNITA's military leadership is secured. The UN Security Council is expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss the recent developments and to decide further steps.

Angop on Tuesday quoted Mussagy Jeichande, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's representative in Angola, as saying that agreements in the Lusaka accord would be applied as soon as a ceasefire was confirmed. Speaking after a meeting with the Angolan interior minister, Jeichande said: "The next FAA-UNITA meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, may be crucial for a ceasefire."

He also reportedly said that sanctions against UNITA could lose their significance and may be lifted after the re-establishment of the Joint Political-Military Commission (CCPM).

A breakthrough in Luena on Wednesday could result in hundreds of thousands of Angolans finally receiving humanitarian aid. UN statistics indicate that more than 500,000 people are beyond their reach because of the war which barred access to much of the country.

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