Angolan Troops, Rebels to Begin Demobilization
LUENA, Angola (AP) _ The second stage of Angola’s truce begins Monday as government and rebel troops are fused into a single 50,000-man national army and another 150,000 soldiers are demobilized.
One of the gathering points will be this pretty colonial town where the last battle of the 16-year civil war was fought six weeks ago.
Government troops stationed in the area will gather outside the town and 26 other points around this southern African nation. Rebels will do the same at 23 other staging areas, according to the truce.
On Sunday, government representatives paid their first visit to rebel leader Jonas Savimbi at his bush headquarters in Jamba. Joining them were members of a panel of U.S., Soviet and other observers who will monitor the peace accord.
After private talks, Savimbi said both sides were committed to the accords and to holding elections scheduled for September 1992.
″If the process is delayed, I think it will be almost impossible to put it on track again,″ Savimbi added.
Lopo Nascimento, the chief government delegate on the cease-fire commission, said, ″We have wounds on our body, wounds on our heart, even wounds on our soul. Now it’s up to us to heal those wounds.″
Luena, 500 miles east of the capital of Luanda, is an example of the vast changes brought by the May 31 peace accords.
Shelling from the war’s final final firefight - a 45-day artillery siege in which more than 500 civilians perished - stopped on May 15 when both sides agreed to an informal cease-fire.
It was followed by the signing peace accords by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Savimbi, the leader of UNITA, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.
The track from the government army garrison to the advance base of the U.S.-backed UNITA movement now throngs with people carrying their meager goods to market and with officers from both sides who greet each other with smiles and handshakes.
But there is an ever-present danger in the town, said Col. Agostinho Sanjaro, the army’s chief representative to a regional commission overseeing the cease-fire.
″Here the forces are very close together, and you have the greatest concentration of troops in Angola. Fortunately, we have a good understanding here,″ he said.
Sanjaro is a frequent visitor to the headquarters of Brig. Geraldo Abreu, his rebel counterpart on the commission.
″We get on very well, it’s all very friendly,″ Abreu said at his windswept camp that once housed some of the 50,000 soldiers Cuba sent in 1975 in support of the then-Marxist government’s war against UNITA.
Nevertheless, both commanders are anxious to restrict mingling between soldiers from the two armies.
When UNITA troopers drive into Luena in their U.S.- or South African- supplied jeeps, they are surrounded by crowds of curious onlookers, Most are children, but there are also soldiers eager to get a close look at their old enemies.
″So far, there have been no serious incidents, everything is going well, said Maj. Vladimir Mikic, a Yugoslav on a five-man United Nations verification mission based in Luena.
They are part of a 350-member U.N. force to monitor the cease-fire.
Further international guarantees are provided by Portugal, the former colonial power that granted Angola independence in November 1975, and the United States and the Soviet Union, who kept the proxy war going for years with generous arms supplies.
The three nations mediated yearlong peace talks that led to the cease-fire.
The next step in the truce is the release of all prisoners of war during August.
Meanwhile, 150,000 soldiers returning to civilian life and an estimated 400,000 Angolan refugees are expected to put further strain on aid workers already struggling to cope with 700,000 internally displaced people.