UNITED NATIONS -- After nearly 20 years of civil war, peace may finally be in the offing for Angola. The rightist UNITA rebel group is in disarray and its leader, Jonas Savimbi, is isolated within his own organization. The formerly Marxist MPLA government has regrouped and is in firm control of the military and political situation.
Although the United Nations reports that little progress has been made on implementation of the latest peace accords, signed in Lusaka, Zambia on Nov. 20, the ceasefire is generally holding and the rebels are cooperating with the government in a joint commission on demobilization and integration of the armed forces. The U.N. is set to discuss expanding its peacekeeping role in Angola when the Security Council meets on Feb. 8. The U.N. is expected to contribute 7,000 peacekeepers to Angola.
Much like its sister country Mozambique, Angola is rich in natural resources -- oil, gas, diamonds. Upon winning its independence from Portugal in 1975, its prospects for prosperity appeared good.
These prospects were dashed by the U.S.-backed war waged by UNITA which destroyed the country's infrastructure, seized control of the diamond mines and disrupted oil and gas production.
There is no way of knowing exactly how many people were slaughtered in the war, but most analysts estimate that at least 750,000 died and hundreds of thousands were wounded. The past two years have been the most vicious. When UNITA rejected its defeat in 1992 elections -- the culmination of the last peace process -- over 200,000 people died within three months and most of the country's major cities were leveled.
Now, Savimbi appears to have reached the end of his line. His commanders are openly meeting with government officials and cooperating with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Savimbi remains hidden and isolated in Bailundo, a small town in central Angola.
Recently Savimbi told the French newspaper Liberation that "UNITA is going through the worst crisis since it was created." Savimbi also indicated that, despite his desire to continue the war, he will have to cooperate because his army has been defeated and he carries little political support among the people. His hope is to delay the process as long as possible so that he can regain control over his organization, but even this is failing.
While peace is not yet guaranteed (there are still periodic clashes in remote areas), the process is finally moving forward. For Angola, the prospects for a new beginning have never appeared brighter.
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