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Peace in Angola holds, but humanitarian situation poses risks - UN envoy

Peace in Angola holds, but humanitarian situation poses risks - UN envoy

A top United Nations envoy for Africa today said that the prospect of a return to war in Angola was almost zero, but warned that the humanitarian situation was serious and potentially destabilizing.

Ibrahim Gambari, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on Africa, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that the ceasefire signed on 4 April in Luanda between the Angolan Government and rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) was holding.

On the other hand, he said, the humanitarian situation was very serious, particularly in the 38 "quartering" areas provided for in the Memorandum of Understanding, where 55,000 UNITA troops and 300,000 of their family members are supposed to be housed.

The Government had underestimated the enormous challenges of providing food, shelter and medicine for the ex-combatants and their family members, Mr. Gambari said. So far, 65,343 UNITA soldiers have arrived at the quartering areas along with 163,819 family members; another 8,800 more soldiers and 7,000 family members were still expected.

Contributing to the problem was the fact that the role of the UN in Phase I of the peace process, while important, was subordinate, the Special Adviser said, as it was essentially an observer and a member of the Joint Military Commission. Furthermore, the UN did not have access to the quartering areas and did not have a framework agreement spelling out the responsibilities to be shared with the Government in providing services to the quartering areas.

The UN, nonetheless, did have a contingency plan, Mr. Gambari said, adding that Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain would be leading an inter-agency mission to Angola from 8 to 14 June to assess the needs there. In addition, the Special Adviser said he and Kenzo Oshima, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, planned to go to Angola next month to launch a joint emergency humanitarian appeal with the Government.

According to Mr. Gambari, the Secretary-General was preparing a reply to a letter from President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who had asked for technical and management assistance and resources for the quartering areas. The Special Adviser also said that Mr. Annan's forthcoming report to the Security Council would define a new mandate for the UN in view of the changed circumstances.

Meanwhile, a meeting held yesterday between the UN and the "Troika" - the United States, Russian Federation and Portugal - on how to respond to the dire situation in the camps decided to meet with the Joint Military Commission to share information, Mr. Gambari said. It also agreed to form a technical group to assess the needs and prepare concrete proposals to ensure success of the quartering process.