Although the government and separatist guerrilla groups in the Angolan enclave of Cabinda have said they are willing to open a dialogue, a precondition must be the cessation of hostilities, says a new report on the conflict.
The report by Joao Porto of the South African-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS), says that the ongoing conflict in the oil-rich enclave has been "largely ignored by the hype that has surrounded the end of the 27-year-old conflict between the government and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)" in Angola.
The conflict in Cabinda has been based on "two irreconcilable positions: for the government, Cabinda is an integral part of Angola's territory ... and it will not contemplate the secession of Cabinda; on the other hand, Cabindan separatists claim that Cabinda has a distinct and separate identity, history and culture from the rest of Angola".
Finding that it "is widely believed that some kind of negotiated autonomy [for Cabinda] is the only solution to the conflict", the report cautioned: "before any attempt at political negotiations takes place, military activity must stop".
It noted that the various belligerent factions of the separatist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) are, "as UNITA was at the end of the civil war, largely destroyed and unable to resume military activity." The military leaders of the FAA [Angolan Armed Forces] and all FLEC factions should therefore "enter into exploratory contacts, following the model of the Luena negotiations", which led to the UNITA/FAA ceasefire.
Such negotiations could pave the way for an end to the Cabinda conflict through "disengagement agreements with all warring factions".
"More importantly, the cessation of hostilities would allow for the flow of much-needed humanitarian assistance into the province, opening the way for the various organisations of the UN system with a presence in Angola to increase their assistance to civilians facing hunger, disease, trauma and loss of livelihood," the report added.
The humanitarian situation in Cabinda has often been reported as dire, but access has proven difficult as the province has been largely off-limits to all but those who work in the oil industry.
The report observed that a negotiated settlement was dependent on Cabindan separatists agreeing to downgrade their demands for independence and negotiate "some kind of autonomy".
"In addition, a negotiated settlement depends on the existence of legitimate and representative interlocutors, able to negotiate for and on behalf of Cabindans as a whole," the report added.
This was where civil society and the church could play a role.
However, one of the recommendations of a recent civil society conference in Cabinda was that "the status of Cabinda should be the object of negotiations only when Angola has a government that has been legitimised by its people; a government established through elections that are truly free and fair".
No election date has been set and some analysts believe the earliest a general election could be held would be in 2005.
The conference also called on the Angolan government to "put an immediate stop to the systematic human rights violations - above all the rape of minors and women by soldiers, an issue highlighted by rights group Amnesty International in its 2003 report - summary executions, torture, and arbitrary detentions".
The ISS report added that an end to military activity would allow international and national NGOs to have a presence in the province which "would guarantee some kind of monitoring of human rights violations on the part of all involved, providing a degree of security to Cabinda's population".
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions