(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Hopes for peace in spite of war - UN

Angola is closer to peace today than it was a year ago, the UN's Special Envoy to Angola, Ambassador Mussagy Jeichande, told IRIN in a recent interview.

"This year we witnessed positive signs towards peace, in spite of the government's offensive against UNITA. I can not believe that someone in Angola is under the delusion that the military solution is viable in a short term. Everbody must be aware that the war is the major factor of terror and human suffering of Angolan people," said the Representative of the UN Secretary-General.

"Last year this time, the warring parties would not even accept the idea that dialogue was the sole and realistic avenue that could bring peace to Angola," he said. "Now both the government and UNITA have said that they conceive that the Lusaka (peace) Protocol is a basis for dialogue."

Since both sides were aware that military victory is not a solution to the conflict, and were "also aware of the unsustainable suffering of Angolan people", Jeichande suggested there was room for compromise between the warring parties. "When both sides and the society as a whole consider that peace is a must and not an issue open for debate, we shouldn't allow this momentum to slip from our grasp. That is what I call a positive sign."

Jeichande said he could not speculate on the compromises the government and UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi would have to make in order to restart peace talks. But, he noted, "what is important at this stage is to have the two sides sitting together in order to discuss how to put an end to the dramatic situation that their country is going through".

Turning to the UN's role in any new peace process in Angola, Jeichande said that with the warring parties returning to the Lusaka agreement in search for peace, the United Nations would return to the role carved out for itself - that of mediator.

Angola has suffered 26 years of almost continuous civil war. Angola returned to full-scale fighting in 1998 after the government, citing UNITA violations of the 1994 Lusaka accord, went on the offensive.

Referring to Angolan government threats to take action against UNITA MPs suspected of having contact with Savimbi's faction in the bush, Jeichande said: "This is a challenge for the young multiparty parliament to understand that in a democracy, the parliament is the house where you are allowed to express and defend your principles while bearing in mind the rules of law.

He added: "What we are trying to do is to open some lines of communications between the two parties. As I said before, both the government and UNITA have agreed that the Lusaka Protocol is the basis for dialogue. So if UNITA parliamentarians who believe that now is the right time for a ceasefire condusive to a lasting peace are able to contact Dr Savimbi and other members of UNITA and convince them of the urgent need to end the hostilities, why should we close this door? We cannot shut out any channel of communication. That could be a disaster for the entire peace process."

Ultimately, however, it is up to Angolans themselves to find peace and to decide on the future of their country, Jeichande said. "The UN today such as in the past is willing to assist them. But in no way can we replace them. They have to do this urgently, because donor fatigue, other crises around the world and the perceived lack of political will in Angola to resolve their own conflict, will lead to more suffering."

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