The rebel movement UNITA, led by Dr. Jonas Savimbi, has been fighting the ruling faction MPLA (of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos) since the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975. A quarter of a century later, in a war which has devastated the country, ruining agriculture, rendering 10% of the population injured, the nightmare continues. This potentially super-rich country is one of the poorest in the world. UNITA’s summer offensive started in September with a generalised attack which has seen attacks on several fronts in recent weeks : at the beginning of December, the oil pipelines in Soyo, north-eastern Angola were attacked numerous times, after this the strategic city of Quibala in Kwanza Sul was attacked and Luanda has been without a continuous electricity supply for 15 days, according to Adalberto Junior, UNITA representative in Italy. Last Thursday, UNITA had reached the Atlantic coast, attacking the airport of Benguela. It should be remembered that UNITA’s area of influence is the diamond-rich interior of the country, while MPLA controls the large cities and the coastline, rich in oil. African wars are not continuous battle lines as one might expect in Europe, but rather, roaming groups of heavily-armed commandos, who appear and disappear, stretching the enemy’s supply lines to the full and then surrounding pockets of troops, creating a flowing and fluent dialogue of attack and withdrawal and counter-attack. Both factions claim to have 100,000 greatly-experienced combat troops in the field and MPLA’s claims that UNITA is a spent force seem far from being true. Maybe UNITA no longer has the strength to capture Luanda, the capital, but it can cause serious disruption. “There are no conditions to circulate outside the great cities”, said Adalberto Junior, as it now becomes apparent that the attack on Benguela lasted two and a half hours and was so serious that many residents of Angola’s second city telephoned relatives in Lisbon in panic. This was not exactly a terrorist attack. UNITA wants to force MPLA to hold discussions but MPLA replies by stating that if UNITA wants to end the war, the solution is simple : stop fighting. While both leaders and their factions become richer by the day through commissions on arms sales, there would seem little incentive for this to happen.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey Pravda.Ru Lisbon

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