Angolans Dream of Peace in Country
Mar. 24, 2002
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LUENA, Angola (AP) _ Across town from rebel leader Jonas Savimbi's unmarked grave, Cecilia, Flora and Eduardinha paint their toenails and dream of a better life far from the minefields and crushing poverty born of a 27-year civil war.
But the dreams of these teen-age girls can only begin to come true if there is peace in Angola.
``Because of the war, people cannot move freely to get things to help themselves,'' said Eduardinha, 16. ``We need peace so that people can be free.''
She means the freedom to plant crops, go to school, get a job _ all the basics of life that have become a distant memory in a town like Luena.
This vast land, three times the size of California, was once the African cockpit of the Cold War. Here a Marxist government supported by the Soviet Union and Cuban troops fought rebels backed by South Africa and the Reagan administration in a war for the biggest colony of Portugal's collapsed African empire.
The end of the Cold War brought no peace. The civil war raged on between the government and Savimbi's UNITA, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.
Now the ruthless, charismatic Savimbi is dead, tracked down and killed by government soldiers on Feb. 22, and many Angolans are daring to say peace finally has a chance.
But others are more cautious.
Diplomats and U.N. officials question the willingness of President Jose Eduardo do Santos' government to end the fighting. Without the war, they say, the government will have no excuse for the miserable lives its citizens are forced to live.
There are concerns that if the government tries to destroy the remnants of Savimbi's UNITA army rather than seek a political solution, the conflict could rage on or the rebels could disintegrate into groups of armed bandits.
The government halted military actions against UNITA this month, saying it wanted to negotiate a nationwide cease-fire.
But UNITA legislator Daniel Jose Domingos says the government is not serious because it is only talking to captured rebel chiefs in Luena, rather than with the UNITA leadership.
But since Savimbi's death, no one seems to know who UNITA's leaders are.
The movement's vice president, Gen. Antonio Dembo, should have assumed control, but he too is believed to have been killed. Domingos said Savimbi's close aide, Paulo Lukamba Gato, now leads the rebels, and the government should be talking to him. But it is not certain he is even alive.
As government soldiers thronged this decaying town 500 miles southeast of the capital, Luanda, Savimbi was buried Feb. 23 without ceremony in a cemetery filled with the graves of Portuguese who died during the colonial era.
Father Emilio Cavavo Dala, a Roman Catholic priest in Luena, shares the widespread concern that some people _ both in and out of government _ are in no hurry to see the war end.
``The main reasons to go to war is to gain control, to kill people and to benefit economically,'' he said.
Angola, with a population of some 12 million, could have been one of Africa's richest countries. It sells more oil to the United States than Kuwait, boasts vast diamond reserves, has rich agricultural land and a long South Atlantic coastline.
Instead, the oil financed the government's war, diamonds financed Savimbi's war, and most of Angola's 12 million people went hungry and jobless.
More than 500,000 people have been killed in the conflict, up to 4 million have fled their homes and 1 million depend on the United Nations for food.
Towns like Luena are islands in a land of war, cut off by fighting and minefields.
Rafael Marques De Morais of the U.S.-based Open Society development agency, said 70 percent of Angolans are illiterate, 60 percent of children don't go to school, 70 percent of workers are unemployed and the country is virtually bankrupt.
In the past, anyone making demands on the government risked being labeled pro-Savimbi, he said.
``The question is how they are going to handle the population now that Savimbi is dead,'' he said.
The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, insists it will seize the opportunity to restore peace.
Angola's $5.8 billion budget for 2002 is the first in a decade to allocate more money for social programs than for military spending, according to Bornito de Sousa, the MPLA parliamentary leader.
He acknowledges that with Savimbi dead, pressure will grow on the government to improve people's lives.
``People will expect more; there is that feeling already. They want to see problems solved, probably earlier than we can,'' he said. ``Some people think if the war stopped, all the money would go to reconstructing the economy and social programs. But this is not the case because we have at least 150,000 men _ soldiers and former soldiers from both the government and UNITA _ we have to take care of.''
De Sousa said that while there may be ``one or two people'' who want the war to continue, the government will push for peace.
``Even if people are making money from this situation, these people can make more money if the country is in peace,'' he said.
Luena used to be a prosperous farming town on the railroad linking Angola's Atlantic port of Benguela with the copper mines of Zambia. Today it exemplifies all that is wrong in Angola.
Trains have not run here since the 1980s because of UNITA attacks. The abandoned station has become a crude public toilet.
On Luena's outskirts, 17 camps house 70,000 war refugees. Men, women and children who stepped on mines hop along the tree-lined streets on crutches.
There is no running water, no electricity, and twice as many patients as beds in the government hospital.
Rail-thin children, some in rags, others naked, sit with their frail mothers outside a ward that has been turned into a feeding center for some 260 severely malnourished under-5s.
``It's a critical time,'' said administrator Carlos Alberto Masseca. ``The hospital does not have the capacity to cope, but we try to help the people anyway.''