At the end of 1998, more than 300,000 Angolans were refugees in neighboring countries, including more than 140,000 in Zambia, 140,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, about 20,000 in Congo-Brazzaville, and 2,000 in Namibia.

Angola hosted more than 10,000 refugees at year's end, including about 10,000 from Congo-Kinshasa who have lived in Angola for years, and fewer than 200 Rwandans.

Renewed war uprooted between 300,000 and 500,000 Angolans during the second half of 1998. At year's end, 1 million to 1.5 million persons were displaced.

An estimated 15,000 Angolan refugees reportedly returned home from neighboring countries in 1998.

Political Developments

1998 began with hopes that Angola's long civil war would permanently end. By December 1998, however, a five-year peace process that cost the UN $1.5 billion and the lives of 60 staff lay in tatters as full-fledged warfare and large-scale displacement resumed.

A November 1994 peace accord known as the Lusaka Protocol officially halted the war between the Angolan government, dominated by the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and rebels of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The peace accord set a timetable for forming a government of national unity, demobilizing UNITA combatants, and restoring state control in rebel-held areas. It also provided for UN peacekeepers to help support the fragile peace in a country littered with landmines and divided between two armies.

By early 1998, as the government and rebels moved toward power sharing, the UN had scaled down its initial peacekeeping operation to a small observer mission with several infantry companies, known as MONUA (United Nations Observer Mission in Angola). By the end of the year, however, the president of Angola called for the termination of MONUA's mandate and an end to international efforts to implement the Lusaka Protocol. The country was at war.

In January, an agreement on a new timetable to fulfill outstanding obligations under the Lusaka Protocol renewed hopes for peace, despite ongoing distrust and tensions in northern regions. In March, UNITA declared – falsely – that it had fully demobilized its forces. The government responded by legalizing UNITA as a political party. The following month, UNITA officials joined the government of national unity in what appeared to be one of the crowning achievements of the peace process.

Despite apparent progress, UNITA never fully demobilized its soldiers in compliance with the peace agreement. UNITA maintained a force of 15,000 to 40,000 guerrilla troops, according to most estimates. UNITA refused to relinquish its stronghold in the central highlands.

In May, attacks attributed to "bandits" in diamond mining areas appeared to signal the resumption of a well-coordinated rebel campaign. By early June, UNITA reoccupied areas previously handed over to the government. The death of UN Special Representative Blondin Beye in a plane crash in the Côte d'Ivoire later that month seriously eroded international mediation efforts.

As military operations intensified, attacks against civilians, aid workers, and UN observers increased. International personnel restricted their movements. Both sides allegedly laid new landmines and forcibly conscripted minors into their armies. MONUA reported government harassment and killings of local UNITA officials. It also documented UNITA abuses, including incidents of selective assassination and kidnapping intended to intimidate the local population from cooperating with government authorities.

On July 1, the UN imposed further sanctions against UNITA in a final attempt to force compliance with the Lusaka accords. In August, the MPLA temporarily suspended UNITA from the government and caused a public split between UNITA moderates and hard-liners. While most UNITA members of parliament continued to support Savimbi, some UNITA officials denounced him, formed a new party – the Renovation Committee of UNITA – and pledged to uphold the Lusaka Protocol.

In mid-October, the government of Angola temporarily banned UN flights to UNITA territory, allegedly because it could not guarantee security. In early December, in an effort to check UNITA's continued violation of the peace accord, the Angolan army attacked UNITA's stronghold in the central highlands. Rebel counterattacks resulted in fierce fighting in the central provinces of Bie and Huambo.

A UN flight carrying four crew and ten UN officials crashed near Huambo on December 26. Both sides accused the other of shooting it down.

Displacement and Assistance

Inexact estimates of the number of Angolans uprooted at year's end reflected the difficulty of counting internally displaced persons.

At the beginning of 1998, an estimated 1.1 million people were internally displaced in Angola. By year's end, UN agencies estimated that there were 300,000 new internally displaced persons, while the Angolan Ministry for Social Assistance and Reinsertion (MINARS) reported 500,000. Aid workers speculated that official estimates were inflated. The provinces of Huambo, Huila, and Malange in central Angola reportedly suffered the most new displacement.

During the first half of the year, more than 70,000 displaced Angolans returned to their villages or chose new settlements near their place of origin, according to official estimates. The majority returned to Bengo and Benguela provinces in western Angola, which remained relatively secure. Most received some assistance, primarily food, seeds, and tools.

During the second half of the year, a steady stream of newly uprooted Angolans swelled the large displaced population living in squalid neighborhoods on the outskirts of urban areas. Some urban camps contained almost entirely women and children. Social services were virtually nonexistent at many locations. Lack of proper sanitation and health care created conditions ripe for outbreaks of epidemics such as tuberculosis, according to aid workers.

Interviews with Angolan refugees and displaced persons suggested that UNITA used landmines, check points, military patrols, and executions to prevent local populations from fleeing to areas of government control, the U.S. State Department reported. UNITA laid anti-personnel and anti vehicle mines on roads that the humanitarian community had previously de-mined.

Displaced Angolans first tended to flee to the nearest place of safety, usually municipal capitals. As many areas became increasingly insecure, the displaced migrated toward provincial capitals. Before hostilities resumed, Luanda was reportedly home to 40 percent of all Angolans, many of whom were displaced by earlier conflict. Yet the dismal economy left hospitals in the capital devoid of basic medical supplies or mattresses.

In June and July, more than 150,000 Angolans fled their homes due to large-scale banditry, attacks on villages, and widespread human rights abuses by both sides. Many internally displaced persons also fled because they feared impending violence or forced conscription by rebel and government troops.

In June, the UN Secretary General declared that military actions launched by UNITA had dramatically deteriorated the humanitarian and human rights situation and increased the number of internally displaced persons to 1.3 million.

In November and December, more than 170,000 people were displaced by the resumption of all-out war in the central highlands. By year's end, UN and Angolan government estimates placed the total number of internally displaced persons was between 1 million to 1.5 million. Many NGOs operating in Angola, however, believed these figures were significantly overestimated. Entire villages and vast tracts of land reportedly remained abandoned. Provinces in central, northern, and eastern Angola experienced new displacement for the second or third time in the space of a few years.

An estimated 220 NGOs operated in Angola during 1998. Increasing insecurity, attacks against aid workers, and obstruction of the UN's humanitarian mandate by both sides hampered relief operations.

In March, UNITA attacked a MONUA team, killing one Angolan and wounding three others. In September, unidentified assailants attacked a WFP convoy on the road to Kwanza Norte Province and set nine vehicles afire. One UN employee was killed and four others were wounded. WFP suspended land convoys for several weeks. Relief agencies increasingly relied on airlifts to supply humanitarian assistance to most areas.

By the end of the year, most humanitarian assistance reached only provincial capitals due to widespread insecurity. Circumstances forced many war-affected families to cope on their own. Some uprooted Angolans still had access to their fields. Others took shelter in familiar communities where they had stayed during previous periods of displacement.

Repatriation to Angola

For the third consecutive year, widespread insecurity prevented UNHCR from actively promoting repatriation to Angola. Nevertheless, more than 15,000 Angolan refugees returned home from Zambia and Congo-Kinshasa to relatively calm areas of the country, according to MINARS. Most spontaneously repatriated during the first half of the year.

Rising tensions forced UNHCR to evacuate its field staff in May and June. UNHCR and its partner agencies suffered extensive looting, costing the agency up to $4.4 million in losses. Several months later, UNHCR officially announced the indefinite suspension of all Angolan repatriation activities.

At year's end, the majority of Angolan refugees remained in Zambia. Most were believed to be from Moxico Province.

Other Refugees

Approximately 10,000 "old caseload" Congolese refugees from the Katanga Province of CongoKinshasa remained in Angola at year's end. Most fled to Angola more than a decade ago.

A relatively small number of new Congolese refugees entered Angola during 1998 after renewed civil war in Congo-Kinshasa. Most returned home by year's end, according to aid workers.

As 1998 began, approximately 2,000 Rwandans and Burundians resided in Moxico Province in western Angola, where they arrived in 1997 from Congo-Kinshasa. At year's end, fewer than 200 remained.

Angolan government officials collaborated with UNHCR to begin a formal screening process to determine which Rwandan refugees had credible asylum claims. Some may have been involved in the 1994 genocide and wanted for crimes against humanity, which would disqualify them from refugee status. Many Rwandans departed to neighboring Zambia in March in an apparent attempt to avoid individual determination of their refugee status, according to UNHCR.

UNHCR interviewed at least 100 families before it suspended the operation in May when low-level warfare resumed. UNHCR sent their files to Zambia to complete the screening process there.

At year's end, unconfirmed reports indicated that some 150 Rwandans and Burundians did not move to Zambia and reportedly remained in the Luena area of Moxico Province in eastern Angola. Rwandans were reportedly among those conscripted into UNITA's forces, according to the U.S. State Department.


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