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UN envoy for war-affected children calls for urgent action to help Angolans

UN envoy for war-affected children calls for urgent action to help Angolans

Olara Otunnu
While welcoming the "remarkable" progress in Angola's peace process, the United Nations envoy for war-affected children today called for urgent action to address the devastating humanitarian legacy of the country's long-running war.

Just back from Angola, Olara Otunnu, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, hailed the "earthshaking good news" that the conflict was over. "For the first time after years of war, Angolans feel that peace is definitive and whatever problems they might encounter along the way, there is no prospect of returning to war," he told a press briefing in New York.

After 30 years of "very bitter and acrimonious" civil war, national unity was evident, the envoy said. "I was also very struck by the eagerness of the Angolan population to reach out to each other across the previous dividing line and to begin a very genuine and serious process of reconciliation."

Despite the "cruelly devastating" impact of the war on children, young people in the country were demonstrating "remarkable" resilience and hope, he said.

At the same time, Mr. Otunnu cited a number of grim statistics. The vast majority of the country's 4 million internally displaced people were children, and some 100,000 youngsters had been separated from their families. During the war, 5,000 schools had been destroyed, and today, more than 50 per cent of Angola's children had no access to education. The majority of the country's hospitals and health facilities had also been levelled during the fighting. "It is no wonder that today so many kids are suffering from malaria, measles, malnutrition and preventable diseases," he said.

The envoy called for immediate action to respond to Angola's grave humanitarian crisis. "I have issued in Luanda - I repeat here - an appeal to the Government of Angola and the international humanitarian community, in this urgent matter of saving lives, to join hands to mount a major and immediate mobilization of food, medicine, water and shelter for the population emerging from the previously UNITA-controlled areas," Mr. Otunnu said, referring to parts of the country that had been held by rebels.

He also called on the Government and the international community to begin immediately rehabilitating key social services, particularly in the areas of education, health and nutrition.