IRIN Interview with Eugenio Manuvakola, UNITA-Renovada leader

The leader of UNITA-Renovada, the Luanda-based faction of the rebel movement that split from Jonas Savimbi in 1998, believes the UNITA fighters still in the bush have no choice but to accept a peace deal with the government.

Former party secretary-general Eugenio Manuvakola - who signed the Lusaka peace accord in 1994 on behalf of UNITA - told IRIN that the rebels now had no reason to continue fighting following Savimbi's death last month.

Q: What of UNITA reconciliation and prospects for peace following Savimbi's death?

A: No leadership can lead UNITA without completing the reunification of its members. I think that today there's no reason for the members to be separated. With Dr Savimbi's death they are defeated.

The prospects (for peace) are very good. Those who still have arms lost the political charge/cause for continuing the war. Without Savimbi they don't have a military direction or leadership objective.

The war was probably the will of Dr. Savimbi, there is no-one else who is capable of succeeding Savimbi in this military programme. UNITA has one sole possibility - a peace agreement with all of the democratic forces of Angola.

Q: What of discipline and cohesion among UNITA troops still in the bush?

A: The troops fought because of the will of Dr. Savimbi. Without Dr Savimbi the only possible path for them is peace. This can be noted by the way (some of) the UNITA military are abandoning the bush in certain parts of the country.

They're just trying to save their lives. If they stay in the bush they die of hunger. In areas most afflicted by the conflict - in Moxico and Bie provinces, where the leadership is - discipline is directly related to the logistics.

Nobody can impose discipline on an empty stomach! The information from those who've abandoned the bush is that the troops are no longer obeying the orders of their commanders. Where the commanders succeed in organising supplies there is a level of discipline.

They don't have any option but to come and negotiate with government and we who are with government in Luanda. They have to find a way to deal with us, the future will be a compromise between us in town and them in the bush.

Q: What contact, if any, has there been between UNITA Renovada and the fighters in the bush. Will the rank and file follow their leaders into a peace deal?

A: Before the death of Savimbi it was impossible, but after 22 February, there are substantial opportunities to establish contacts, the situation is still very military and communications with UNITA in the bush can be made in the first instance by the Angolan army (FAA). Our communication can come after that.

Q: Is government talking peace while at the same time planning for a total military victory?

A: Government is going to press for a complete military victory (if a ceasefire fails). Even if it was I (in power) the objective would be to avoid another armed insurrection in Angola.

There's a possibility that the two (peace initiatives and a push for a final military solution) will run concurrently.

Q: The war has scarred Angola's population. What of reconciliation among its people?

A: The war in fact inflicted deep wounds on the Angolan people. The greatest danger will be the distrust between members of UNITA and members of the ruling MPLA.

We have to formulate solutions and (foster) understanding/tolerance. The people have suffered a lot.

The greatest problem is that people confuse humanitarian assistance as assistance from the MPLA party. The MPLA have taken advantage of this situation and many people think that what (aid) arrives has been given by the MPLA, not by the international aid organisations nor the government.

We don't have access to distribution of humanitarian aid, this is going to affect with certainty the electoral constituency of the future. It's a major problem.

Q: UNITA and the government have been criticised for not allowing people, in areas under their control, access to humanitarian aid. What hope is there this latest peace initiative will allow agencies to reach people who have so far been inaccessible?

A: Until February it was difficult to open humanitarian corridors. I think in the next days a great possibility exists for (the opening) of humanitarian corridors. Perhaps people won't have to displace themselves and aid agencies can find them where they are. Very probably (agencies will be able to reach them) by land and not (just) by air.

In the eastern part of the country the situation ... has become a humanitarian emergency. There's a need for speed in helping thousands of people who are in life-threatening conditions.

Q: What do you think is needed before elections can be held?

A: (One is) the resettlement of people, the internally displaced persons (IDPs). Resettlement of people requires at least one good agricultural year. It's necessary the people succeed in taking their first harvest.

We have millions of IDPs, imagine the work this will be to have them returned to more or less decimated areas.

Also the war could be stopped but as long as arms have not been collected there could be banditry - until the authority of the state is imposed.

Banditry could be seen as productive because of the poverty of those who had been in the military and whose only capital is their weapon. An ex-combatant whose family is in need, who is not resettled and not re-inserted (into society) - is very (likely) to (rely) on his weapon.

This message is from us to Ibrahim Gambari (UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special advisor for Africa). We consider it very important that before the next elections there should be, must be, a free civil registration for all Angolan citizens.

It cannot be comprehended that 27 years after independence ... more than 40 percent of Angolans are not registered. This was aggravated with the loss of control by government of various municipalities and consequently the loss of (much) of the old civil registry.

In Huambo, the second city of the country, all of the registers of the last 100 years have more or less disappeared.

All natives of Huambo have to re-register. It's only through this that we can determine who will be the future electorate.

I also criticise the international community because it has been easy to find supporters for the war and very difficult to find supporters/allies for peace. When we were making war we had various allies. Today that we are in the peace process we do not have allies. UNITA (re-unified) has to reform from a military to a civil party... and has to give hope to its ex-combatants without any resource support.

The weakness of UNITA in terms of resources prejudices the peace process. The party has to be encouraged to construct peace, this implies it has to have support. This could range from funds to possible alliances.

Q: It's said that many senior officers have interests in diamonds and oil. Do you think a ceasefire will work?

A: In recent times it has not been easy for Savimbi to procure diamonds. The only source of funding for Savimbi was diamonds. His external connections depended on diamonds.

In order to continue a military programme they would have to re-constitute their economic resources. But government has increased its control of... areas where diamonds are extracted.

I think it becomes almost impossible to pursue a military programme under these conditions. The second aspect is that the sale of diamonds can resolve the (lack) of war materials but there is no food. The day to day (existence) of the soldier (depends on) food and food is agriculture.

We don't have the necessary peace to develop agriculture. This is why I say the choice in the end is only one - they have to accept peace.

As to oil. It's true the allegations (of corruption). We hear it from sources in the petroleum market and sources central to the world of finance. There have been various irregularities in financial management of the resources of the country.

It's true that when there is war generals get rich. People say the war in Angola is never going to finish because for many it is a business. This is an erroneous interpretation and pessimistic.

However, when the war ends it will affect many people. We won't need such a big army and must ensure that we (re-integrate) the military elements into the civil society and economy.