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Angola

Volume 229: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1993

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12.32 pm

I am pleased to have the opportunity today to draw the attention of the House and the country to the continuing tragic situation in Angola. After more than 30 years of war, the Angolan people welcomed the elections of September 1992 as the beginning of a new era of peace. I was privileged, along with the hon. Members for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), to be one of four official British delegates sent to monitor the elections. All our accounts of the elections and all the international observers said that, under incredibly difficult constraints, the elections were as free and fair as any elections could be.

Unfortunately, the leader of UNITA, Mr. Savimbi, rejected the election results and, since that time, UNITA has been waging a devastating war. The rebel forces now control about 70 per cent. of the country, including the second largest town, Huambo, a city in which two of the members of our delegation based their headquarters during the monitoring of the elections. When I recently saw pictures of what had happened in Huambo, having seen it a year ago when even then we felt that it was devastated from 30 years of war, and to know that many of the people who had helped and supported us have since been killed, it brings home the tragedy of the situation.

I should like to put on record, on behalf of all the delegates, that the help and support from the British embassy in Luanda was superb. It must be one of the most difficult postings in the world for British embassy staff, not just at the senior level but at junior level. All of us were grateful to them for their dedication and duty.

It is estimated that well over 20,000 people have died and 3 million people have been displaced amid fighting heavier than at any time since independence. In an especially horrific incident recently, UNITA forces attacked a train, killing up to 300 civilians, mostly women and children, and wounding many others.

Angola is potentially a rich country, but its economy has been destroyed by the continued fighting over many years. Agriculture has been reduced to low levels of production, and food prices have risen beyond the reach of ordinary people. The war has displaced many rural dwellers and prevented many others from planting because of harassment by military forces. It must be said that there has been military force on occasions from both sides, but it has been especially from UNITA.

The continuing dry conditions in the drought-prone south are also causing food shortages. Landmines, some of them dating back to pre-independence days, are a serious ongoing problem. There is estimated to be 2 million landmines scattered throughout the country, many around key economic installations as well as on paths, roads, river banks and in built-up areas. Even when peace is restored, they will still pose a great threat to life, inhibiting future reconstruction.

In the face of this desperate state of affairs, many Angolans who pinned their hopes for peace on the UN-monitored elections feel betrayed by the international community in which they placed their faith. Angola is a key test of the UN's credibility as an agent of peace in the post cold-war era. The debacle has been a major setback for UN operations since the end of the cold war. As well as threatening to destabilise transitional processes in other parts of the region—for example, in Mozambique and South Africa—there are important implications for the UN's involvement in other peacekeeping operations. The current diplomatic situation is that, in May, the Abidjan peace talks broke down due to UNITA's refusal to accept the terms of its withdrawal from towns it is holding. The new UN special representative, Mr. Beye of Mali, took charge of the UN Angola Verification Mission II in June, saying that "genuine will and concrete action" were necessary from both sides to overcome the current impasse.

On 15 July the UN Security Council renewed the UNAVEM II mandate for another two months. The mandate allows for Mr. Beye to "offer his good offices" in pursuit of an agreement between the two sides. The three observer countries—Portugal, the United States and the Russian federation—issued a strongly worded statement on 8 July calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities. The democratically elected Angolan Government had high hopes that United States' recent and belated recognition might lead to an improvement in the diplomatic situation. George Moose, the US Secretary for Foreign Affairs, visited Angola in June, but was vague on the type and amount of aid that Angola could expect.

Although there is no official evidence at the moment of assistance to UNITA from South Africa, it appears that junior members of the army in South Africa have been supplying UNITA unofficially. It is also believed that UNITA is still receiving assistance from Zaire. Both countries have certainly helped UNITA in the past.

Does my hon. Friend recall that, during Nelson Mandela's most recent visit to London, the question of South African support for UNITA was raised with him? He deplored the way in which South African forces had been used to crush, or attempt to crush, the democratically elected Government in Angola. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for the British Government to put all possible pressure on both the commercial sources of funding to UNITA and on South Africa, whose troops, both regular and irregular, and air force are attempting to destroy the results of the Angolan election?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I hope that the Minister will respond to that direct point. It is clear that support, even if it is only covert, is in some way coming from South Africa. That help will prolong the situation.

I want to say what I and a number of others think went wrong with the peace process. We all agree that it is easier with the advantage of hindsight, but it is clear that the United Nations made many mistakes between the 1991 peace agreement and the elections in 1992. The United Nations and the world community must learn from those mistakes. The United Nations mission was badly underfunded by the international community. Before the elections, the special representative herself made repeated references to the lack of resources. The one quote that has been used over and over again and needs repeating is when she said that she was expected to "fly a jumbo jet with fuel for DC3."

UNAVEM II seems to be an attempt by the international community to deal with Angola on the cheap, but its failure demonstrates the dangers of expecting the United Nations to function with inadequate funds. UNAVEM II's mandate from the Security Council was too weak. After the election, the United Nations special representative admitted that, with hindsight, the United Nations should never have accepted the mandate because of its insufficient powers. On the many occasions when the Bicesse accords were broken, the United Nations could do nothing except try to cajole the two sides into an agreement. In practice, the United Nations often turned a blind eye to transgressions. The United Nations' kid-glove treatment of UNITA may have unwittingly encouraged Mr. Savimbi to reject the election results. The failure of the demobilisation and disarming process made it all too easy for UNITA to return to war after it failed to win the election.

In retrospect, the 18 months allowed to prepare for the elections were insufficient, especially in view of the long civil war that preceded the transition. When it is compared with the transition period that is being allowed for South Africa and the resources that went into Namibia, we can see that the United Nations underestimated the amount of resources needed. Some people may disagree, but I think that the United Nations seemed unprepared for a Government victory in the elections and had no contingency plans for such an event. The Angolan tragedy has to be an important lesson to the international community of the dangers of trying to deal with conflicts on the cheap.

Let me consider the humanitarian situation because that is where the real tragedy lies—with the ordinary Angolan men and women, many of whom we spoke to when we were there. The majority were young people who were at the polling stations to represent the two main political parties and were standing side by side, having to sleep and work together on the election process. Most of them were younger than 20. At every station that we visited throughout the country, all of them told us that they wanted peace at the end of the election. They were prepared to work together, they knew what an election meant, and they wanted peace. The tragedy is that they were speaking the truth. Both the young people from UNITA and the young people from the MPLA wanted peace. The tragedy is that leaders of political parties so often do not follow the wishes of party members and of people.

The current humanitarian situation is that thousands of displaced people have fled from the UNITA-held rural areas to those towns still under Government control. In Luanda and other cities the sudden influx has placed an intolerable strain on water and food supplies. City dwellers in coastal towns such as Lobito and Benguela are even worse off than the displaced people living in camps. Although the former are not eligible for fuel and food aid, they have lost their jobs, their farmland and access to relatives in the countryside who might provide them with food. Soup kitchens are being set up to help them. According to the World Food Programme, 2 million people—about one fifth of the population—face food shortages.

In April, UNITA shot down a World Food Programme relief aeroplane taking supplies into Luena, one of the provincial towns under siege from UNITA. In June. following the breakdown of the Abidjan talks, the United Nations negotiated a 30-day plan for safe corridors to take relief into war-torn areas. That quickly foundered after UNITA withdrew permission for flights to land in the towns of Cuito and Menongue. Our most recent information is that the United Nations is trying to resume flights according to the original plan but that its aeroplanes are still being shot at.

The United Nations has appealed for $226 million to fund its relief work in Angola, which has met with a disappointing response from donor countries, with initial pledges amounting to $89 million only. The United Kingdom pledged £2 million and 3,000 tonnes of wheat at the donors' conference. The World Food Programme has urged an increased response, and stated in June that it was in particular need of $2·8 million for emergency operations support. Initial flights into Huambo have confirmed the urgency and enormity of need and the programme is trying to position as much food aid as it can within Angola, ready for delivery when security conditions permit. Neighbouring countries report that they are receiving large influxes of Angolan refugees.

I ask the Minister whether the United Kingdom Government, in the midst of all their other difficulties, could respond more generously to the United Nations appeal for Angola launched in May, and to any direct requests for assistance from the Angolan Government. Could the Government also exert diplomatic pressure to ensure that no covert assistance is reaching UNITA from South Africa, Zaire or any other country? Surely we can do more to stop that help reaching UNITA.

In addition, the United Kingdom, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has an important role to play in helping to reinstate the peace process, and we want the Government to work closely with other permanent members to ensure that the United Nations continues with its efforts to bring the Angolan Government and UNITA together, always recognising that that Government are the legitimate Government of the country.

Our Government must continue to take the lead in co-ordinating and supporting humanitarian relief efforts in areas where access is possible, and prepare for a strengthened United Nations peacekeeping mission once the peace process restarts. That will mean direct responsibility for supervising all aspects. including disarmament, demobilisation and any further elections. Clearly, that means adequate funding.

The United Kingdom Government must work with other members of the European Council of Ministers and the European Commission to ensure that the European Community responds generously to the United Nations appeal on Angola and any direct requests for assistance. They should signal to any Governments who are currently providing covert assistance to UNITA that that is unacceptable. We have a responsibility.

The western and Soviet power blocs used Angola as a pawn in the cold war and have now lost interest in it, despite 1·7 million refugees and a daily death rate higher than that in Bosnia. We know that the United Nations devoted too little assistance in soldiers and money. It failed to give United Nations special representatives the power to halt the elections until both sides disarmed. The United States failed to put immediate pressure on UNITA. It could have told Savimbi that the time was up. It failed to do that and has only belatedly recognised the Angolan Government. As part of the west, we have a responsibility for what is happening in Angola.

Angola has been at war continually for 32 years. With neither side able to prevail in the civil war, it is shameful that the west is doing almost nothing to stop one of the most ruinous conflicts in the world. Pressures could be brought to bear that would force UNITA to accept within six months the Abidjan settlement that it has so far refused.

We must get all military and economic aid to UNITA blocked. We must continue the diplomatic isolation of UNITA by getting other countries such as Zaire, Morocco and the Ivory Coast, as well as South Africa, to withdraw support. As has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), we should consider cutting UNITA's satellite telephone links and closing its offices abroad, including that in London. Above all, UNITA's funds must be cut by blocking the marketing of illegally mined diamonds from north-east Angola. I await the Minister's response to that.

I will remember my visit to Angola mostly because of the warmth of the people and their determination to live in a democratic society. We told them that we would tell the House of Commons that their elections had been fair and would continue to take an interest in what is happening in their country. I hope that this debate will help to arouse the feeling that something must be done to end the terrible tragedy for which we, as a country of the west, are partly responsible.

12.47 pm

With permission of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey), may I say that I had the honour to lead the parliamentary delegation to observe the elections in Angola in October in which the hon. Lady starred dramatically. I well remember tramping through the scorching heat and the dust of the streets of Benguela with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) to see the elections, which we observed in both Benguela and Luanda, the capital. Our hon. Friends went to other cities throughout the country.

We unreservedly endorse the opinion of UNAVEM that the elections were fairly held and represented the then views of the people of Angola. It was especially moving to see young people on both sides of the argument—both UNITA and the MPLA—working with such hope that the election would express a view, bring an end to the war, and be the opening of a new peaceful and prosperous chapter for the great country of Angola.

All of that was thrown away by Jonas Savimbi's decision to repudiate the election. He released the dogs of war in insurrection in a number of cities. In return, the thugs of the MPLA, whom we met during the visit of our delegation, were released to the butchering of the young people whom we saw in the polling stations. Jonas Savimbi has much blood on his hands. He must understand that, whatever support he may have found in the House of Commons during the civil war and before the Bicesse accords, our response to the election is that he has forfeited any support that he may once have enjoyed.

12.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) on raising this subject for debate. I am aware that she arid my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), as well as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (M r. Loyden), were observers. I do not know about the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who is also present today, but I know that he takes an interest in the subject. Knowing that the hon. Members had all been to the elections, I was interested to hear their contributions.

The Government share the hon. Lady's concern about the tragic conflict. I am dismayed by the resumption of the civil war and the suffering caused by it. The Government firmly support a negotiated solution to the conflict in the framework of the Bicesse accords. We pay tribute to the willingness of the Angolan Government to uphold the accords and to the attempts by the United Nations Secretary-General to bring the Angolan Government and UNITA to the negotiating table.

The accords were signed by the Government of Angola and UNITA in May 1991. They provided, among other things, for the first democratic elections, which took place in September 1992, monitored by the hon. Lady, other hon. Members and the United Nations corps of observers. We know the result: the MPLA won a substantial majority in the legislative elections and President Dos Santos gained 49·5 per cent. in the presidential elections, with Mr. Savimbi gaining only 40 per cent. At that time, the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative was a British lady, Miss Margaret Anstee, who, in concert with Members of Parliament who were present, determined quite clearly that the elections were generally free and fair.

We unreservedly condemn UNITA for rejecting the results of those elections, for resuming the civil war, for breaking off the talks in Abidjan and for refusing to withdraw from areas which it occupies. We have urged UNITA to agree to an immediate ceasefire and return to the negotiating table. To that end, the Government helped to prepare United Nations Security Council resolution 851, which the council adopted under British chairmanship on 15 July. The resolution extends the mandate of the United Nations Angolan verification mission and expresses the council's willingness to consider measures against UNITA under the United Nations charter. If no ceasefire is in place by 15 September, those measures are likely to include a mandatory embargo on the supply to UNITA of arms and related material and military assistance.

The hon. Lady suggested that the United Nations had put inadequate resources into the peace process. We must remember that, when the peace accords were negotiated by UNITA and the MPLA Government in early 1991, one of the areas of agreement between the two Angolan parties was a desire to limit the size of the United Nations mission and to limit the United Nations role to monitoring rather than implementing the elections.

The United Nations mission in Angola has cost the United Nations more than US$148 million so far, arid however desirable it may be for more money to be spent —as the hon. Lady suggested—the sum already spent can hardly be described as doing it on the cheap. Many people are perplexed and concerned about the proposal to allow UNITA two months in which to comply. The purpose of that is to give the new special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Beye—who has been in post for only a short time—an opportunity to use his good offices to bring the two sides together. Certainly, I hope that the additional measures will not be necessary, although I recognise that they may be. UNITA must recognise that it is now isolated politically and that it cannot continue to defy the wishess of the United Nations and to oppose by arms the democratically elected Government of Angola.

As the hon. Lady said, UNITA has an office in London, and she invited me to comment on that. We have not sought to do anything about it. I am sure that the hon. Lady will accept that in Britain we are proud of our long tradition of freedom of expression. That means that any organisation that does not break our laws can establish an office here. I am sure that she will agree that that is the right approach. I am not aware of any evidence that the UNITA office in London is engaged in criminal activity. In the absence of any such evidence, there is no basis for closing it.

We have had a similar problem with several other countries where activities are pursued through legitimate organisations in London. Those countries often express anger, bitterness and concern about that. I am afraid that the hon. Lady must say to her friends and contacts that if they have any evidence they must present it and we will then look at it in every possible way, and on a confidential basis. We must have evidence upon which to act.

Could the Minister deal with the point that I raised earlier? What action is his Government taking to put pressure on the South African Government about their military support for UNITA in Angola?

I shall say something about that before I make my concluding remarks. The South African Government have repeatedly maintained, and we have accepted, that they are not supporting UNITA. Senior members of the Angolan Government have told us that they accept those assurances. It is clear that UNITA concealed significant stockpiles of fuel, arms and ammunition in the run up to last year's elections and is not, as in the past, dependent on the support of other states in the region. I am sure that when discussing any necessary measures in September the Security Council will carefully consider all the available evidence on UNITA's supply routes, with the intention of cutting them.

In the meantime, we have been showing our concern for the humanitarian tragedy in Angola by providing a large measure of assistance. The war has caused hundreds of thousands of non-combatants—the hon. Lady said 3 million—in rural Angola to be driven from their homes and into the cities of the coastal strip. They endure much suffering. We have pledged up to £2 million in response to the United Nations appeal for Angola for the purpose of emergency humanitarian relief. Some £800,000 has already been committed to British non-governmental organisations to airlift and stockpile emergency supplies. We are considering the most appropriate channels for disbursing the rest. We have also pledged 3,000 tonnes of food aid through the World Food Programme. Without a political settlement, there are limits to what aid agencies can do to alleviate such hardships. In that context we call upon UNITA to stop frustrating attempts by the United Nations to deliver humanitarian relief supplies to civilians.

A ceasefire in Angola must be the top priority. We shall do all that we can, with the Security Council and in consultation with others, to bring that about as soon as possible. We therefore strongly support the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative, Mr. Beye, to whom I have referred, to restart a dialogue between the Government an UNITA. I know that Mr. Beye discussed this with the UNITA leader Dr. Savimbi on 8 July, when the latter expressed his willingness in principle to resume the dialogue that was broken off on 21 May.

The Government of Angola have repeatedly made clear their willingness to negotiate, and I call on UNITA to match with deeds its leader's declaration of intent and to negotiate in good faith and so put an end to the suffering of the Angolan people.