Twice in the last two weeks, U.N.-chartered aircraft have crashed in central Angola. In both cases, the fate of the passengers and crew — 24 people in total — is unknown, as is the cause of the crashes. Neither the government nor the rebels of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) is cooperating with the United Nations to help search the crash sites. Both parties to the 25-year conflict in Angola blame the other for the disasters; most suspicions fall on UNITA, which, as Mr. Gwynne Dyer points out in his article on this page, has done its very best to undermine the country’s future.
There are plenty of culprits responsible for Angola’s tragedy. The former Portuguese colony was once a Cold War battlefield, but the two superpowers had withdrawn from the conflict by 1991. Despite two U.N.-mediated attempts at ceasefires and elections, the combatants seem to prefer war to peace. During two and half decades of civil war, over 500,000 lives have been lost and another 220,000 people have been forced to flee the country.
Yet in the final reckoning, the chief obstacle to an enduring peace in Angola seems to be Mr. Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA. Mr. Savimbi signed a peace treaty in 1991 and agreed to U.N.-sponsored elections the following year, but he returned to the bush when his party was thrashed in the vote. Two years of fighting between the government and UNITA led to another stalemate, at which time the U.N. brokered yet another ceasefire. That held until last summer. In the interim, the Angolan Parliament convened with 70 UNITA members in the opposition and four claiming Cabinet posts in the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Pointedly, Mr. Savimbi did not attend the government’s inauguration; moreover, he refused to demobilize and disarm the 30,000-man army he reportedly maintains in his highland stronghold.
A resumption of the war was inevitable. Perhaps the amazing thing is that the last ceasefire held as long as it did. At least 200 people have been killed in the last month; more than 20 have died this week, in addition to the victims of the two recent plane crashes.
There are always risks in humanitarian work. There are over 1,000 peacekeepers in Angola; two years ago, there were 6,000. The shrinking contingent is a reflection of the dwindling commitment the U.N. — and by extension, the world — has to help end the conflict. Still, dangers persist. In the past year, 45 humanitarian workers and peacekeepers were killed while on duty.
The sad truth is that the U.N. has been complicit in efforts to sabotage its own work. UNITA’s unwillingness to abide by the terms of the ceasefire was an open secret. It refused to hand over its weapons, and the soldiers that reported for demobilization were children recruited weeks before, not the battle-hardened veterans that made Mr. Savimbi a threat. Moreover, Mr. Savimbi continued to procure weapons in the international arms markets, betraying his intention to fight when the opportunity presented itself. All the while, the U.N. turned a blind eye to those violations.
A similar situation took place during the U.N.-sponsored elections in Cambodia in 1993. Although the ceasefire called for the U.N. authority to take control of the “power ministries” — the police, the army and the judiciary — to ensure that the elections were fair and free from intimidation, the government of then Prime Minister Hun Sen refused. When he lost the vote, the U.N. was in no position to demand that he accept the results and Mr. Hun Sen muscled his way into a coalition.
The two cases are reminders that a genuine peace requires more than just going through the motions. Piecemeal implementation of a ceasefire is a virtual guarantee that it will unravel. The unwillingness to abide by agreements that the parties have already signed is the clearest possible signal that the commitment to peace is only tentative; in such circumstances, strict adherence to the terms of the accord may be the only guarantee of success.
This lesson is a timely one for Japan as the government debates the terms by which it will participate in U.N. activities. Good intentions are not sufficient. Peacekeeping depends on the peacemaking and that, in turn, requires steely resolve. Negotiations are the time for flexibility and compromise; once an agreement is reached, it must be strictly enforced. A failure to do so will only end in tragedy, as the citizens and humanitarian workers of Angola know only too well.
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