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1990s: Diamond Production Conflict in Angola the U.N.’s Role

March 1999

The civil wars are still very much in evidence in Africa, especially in and perhaps because of the areas where there is diamond production.

As the clock ticks away on the United Nations mandate – to expire February 26 – Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has declared that the Lusaka peace accords will be discarded and that Jonas Savimbi, head of the UNITA rebels, will be declared a war criminal and international terrorist. The abandonment of the U.N. mandate will mean a return to full war after four years of relative peace during which both sides have sought monetary and military support from myriad nations.

In January, UNITA (in Portuguese, National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) took control of Mbanza Congo a major diamond-producing piece in the high-stakes game. The income from those mines is controlled by the rebel forces and covers a great deal of their fighting costs. “The U.N. could play a useful role in the search for a solution to the Angolan conflict,” read a statement from UNITA, but each side has criticized the U.N. and accused it of bias toward the other group.

UNITA rejected some of the terms of the U.N. treaty and continues to control some of the highest producing diamond mining areas in the country. Although help was sought from Cuba in the previous civil war, the ambassador to Havana announced that the MBLA neither needed nor was seeking military help. In January, the government openly accused five countries, including Zambia, Rwanda and Uganda, of aiding UNITA, but Alcides Sakala, UNITA spokesman, said that Cuban soldiers were being deployed with Angolan government troupes. UNITA’s numbers are now said to be 40,000 and very well armed.

Earlier in January, the crash of the C-130 airplane, carrying four U.N. staff members, focussed world attention on the civil war. Each side accuses the other of shooting down the plane.

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