US Hopeful Relief Can Be Sent To Famine Victims in Angola
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States welcomed on Thursday an announcement by Namibia that relief supplies can be sent from Namibian territory to neighboring Angola where famine is threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
U.S. officials declined to call the announcement a breakthrough because of skepticism about the position of Angola’s leftist government. Angolan officials, meanwhile, said they were eager to begin a food relief operation as quickly as possible.
Civil war and drought in Angola have created what U.S. officials say is Africa’s most severe famine problem but mistrust between the Angolan government and U.S.-backed rebels has prevented agreement on a relief program.
Estimates of the number of hungry Angolans range from 750,000 to 2 million. A civil war has raged in Angola since 1975 and rebel leaders say the Angolan Army is laying the groundwork for a new military offensive.
The Bush administration has been attempting for weeks to persuade the Angolan government to accept a Namibia-based cross border operation. Hopes for an agreement faded last week when Angolan officials snubbed the director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Andrew Natsios, during a visit to Luanda, U.S. officials said.
But Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler welcomed the Namibian statement and expressed hope that ″speedy shipments of relief supplies can begin soon.″
She said the administration was encouraged that Angola ″might agree soon to these shipments.″
This was an apparent reference to a statement on Tuesday in which Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, during a meeting with Namibian President Sam Nujoma, said his government was not opposed to a cross border relief operation.
″We support aid to all Angolans wherever they may be,″ dos Santos said.
The Bush administration wants international relief organizations to carry out the program but it was not clear whether the Angolan government has agreed to that provision. According to UNITA sources, Angola is insisting that its military forces run the operation as a means of preventing food shipments from reaching hungry Angolans in UNITA-held territory.
Angolan officials have been wary about agreeing to a cross border operation out of concern that the United States might provide weapons to the rebels, using the food shipments as a cover.
U.S. officials have dismissed that concern as ridiculous, asserting that international relief agencies will ensure that the shipments do not contain weapons.
Angola’s U.N. ambassador, Manuel Pacavira, denied in an interview Thursday that Angola had changed its policy regarding the cross border shipments. He said his government merely was awaiting completion of talks with U.N. officials on arrangements for the program.
Pacavira met Thursday morning with Jeffrey Davidow, a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Africa bureau.
A U.S. official, insisting on anonymity, said the administration needs to see the fine print of the U.N. agreement before concluding whether a breakthrough has been reached.
He said the Angolan government may be showing flexibility on the humanitarian aid issue in order to influence pending congressional deliberations about future aid to the UNITA rebels.
The United States has been providing military aid to UNITA since 1986.