‘Mutilados’ Cope With Pain, Fear of Renewed War
VIANA, Angola (AP) _ There are no painkillers left at the rehabilitation center for the ″mutilados,″ so the soldiers maimed, burned and scarred in Angola’s civil war drink hot whisky to ease their suffering.
Only two months ago, they were looking forward to returning to a peaceful society. But now, many fear they might have to fight again.
Angola, which tasted its first peace in 16 years after President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi signed peace accords in May 1991, is now back on the brink of war.
About 400 maimed or wounded government soldiers sleep in dormitories at the center - a ramshackle former hotel about 12 miles southeast of Luanda, the capital. Their cramped, filthy cots are hidden by even filthier curtains.
″It’s up to the presidents to decide whether we’ll have peace or more war,″ said one veteran, 24-year-old Joao Bernardo.
″But it’s not their children who go out and get killed, is it?″ he said bitterly.
Bernardo lost a leg fighting five years ago near his home city of Malanje. UNITA troops are recently reported to have surrounded the city again.
Savimbi refused to accept defeat in multiparty elections in September and returned to his troops threatening force. Clashes flared two weeks ago.
Government police and armed civilian gangs routed UNITA, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, from Luanda.
The rebels grabbed land elsewhere and now control about 60 percent of this former Portugese colony, where civil war left more than 1 million people killed, maimed or wounded. Many people lost limbs from land mines.
The ruling party has demanded Savimbi give up his military gains and return to the bargaining table to avoid all-out war. But so far the rebel leader has given no response.
The maimed vets - known as the ″mutilados″ or the mutilated - were receiving food and medicine during the 16 months of peace that followed the 1991 peace accords.
Now, with the government in crisis, food and drug supplies have stopped and veterans such as Bernardo have not heard from their loved ones for weeks. Bernardo cannot go home as he had planned because the rebels are between him and Malanje.
Shorty after the elections, the center was attacked by small bands of rebels. Two vets were killed and three wounded when rocket-propelled grenades and automatic gunfire hit the building, the soldiers said.
Few of the ″mutilados″ want to return to the battlefield, except maybe Jose Cajotomba.
In his forties and an ardent supporter of the government’s now-abandoned orthodox Marxism, Cajotomba suffered severe, disfiguring burns to his face, arms and hands in a battle in eastern Moxico province in 1987.
At the rehabilitation center, he eased his pain with early morning shots of hot whisky and ranted and raved against UNITA.
Then he gritted his teeth and clutched a pen in his crushed, scarred hand to write down directions to the local MPLA office.
Relaxing his concentration, the whisky took hold again.
″If UNITA attacks, we’ll give them the right answer,″ he said. ″More will die, more will die. They’ll all die.″